Growing up in the church I often heard people declaring that God had spoken to them. And they didn’t mean God had spoken to them in the general sense that comes from studying and understanding a bible passage. They meant God had spoken to them about something quite specific. Nor as far as I’m aware did any claim to have heard an audible voice. Rather they spoke of a still, small voice speaking to them.
I have never heard God speak to me like that. I have had moments in which I have been very aware of the presence of God; I have felt strong convictions on what God wants for my life and world; God has miraculously healed me of a life-threatening illness. But I have never had the sensation of hearing God’s ‘still, small voice’. I have tried to hear it, but to no avail.
For many years I wondered if the problem was me or them. Was there something deficient about my spirituality? Certainly there is no end of books teaching me how to become attuned to God’s voice. I tried and tried but nothing eventuated. Maybe the problem was with the intuitive. Were they just deluding themselves? Maybe what they were experiencing was little more than breakfast rumbling in their tummy?
Then one day it dawned on me that maybe there are multiple ways God speaks to us. To people like me, who have to think everything through, who love ideas, maybe God’s way of speaking is primarily through the analysis of the bible. Maybe to people who are less ideas oriented but more intuition oriented God speaks in a much more intuitive way, through the sensation of a still small voice?
For me this was an aha moment. I began to imagine a continuum to depict the modes by which we hear God’s voice. At one end of the continuum sit analytical thinkers. At the other end sit the intuitives. And everyone sits somewhere on the continuum, some right out at one pole, some at the other, and some somewhere inbetween.
This means I no longer need worry that I don’t hear a still, small voice. I hear God loud and clear in the story and teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures and I hear God’s particular word to me when I apply what I have discovered to the way I live. Nor need I try to show the intuitives that they are wrong. If God speaks to them by way of emotional and thought impressions that is good.
This also reminds me of the importance of listening to God as a community of believers. We need each other. The intuitives need the analysts to help put a biblical frame around their hearing and to provide the rigour to our search to know and follow Jesus. And the analytical believers need the intuitives to help us collectively hear what God has to say to the specifics of our lives. Together we can help each other hear God’s word to us.
God may well speak to us in different ways – though this does not legitimise every occurrence or claim. I get worried when people use God-speaking-to-them as a weapon or as additional ammunition to their cause. I think we should use claims of God speaking to us cautiously. Sometimes we can use the term flippantly – if God is really speaking directly to us then it is very serious business indeed. I was at a function recently where we were asked to vacate the hall at the end of the current session (so that people could set up and rehearse… Read more »
Hi Andrew, I agree we can all too glibly claim to have heard God speak and then use our divine mandate as a battering ram. I think 1 Thess 5:20 is helpful -” Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all”. We somehow need to develop a culture where people can say “I think this is what God is saying” and have it tested. This seems to militate against the God-has-spoken-noone-can-question-it approach.
Priscilla Shirer has written a very good book on this subject, called Discerning the Voice of God, there is also a little booklet accompanying this that can be bought called Is That You God.
Thanks for the recommendation. Had a quick look on Amazon and read the first chapter. Shirer seems to operate out of the notion that we can all hear God speaking to us on a daily basis if we learn to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit. Must confess, this is the view I am challenging. I grew up surrounded by this view and people who sought to practice it, read books on it, but am not convinced by it