Last week, as I was telling another friend about a revelation I’d had, she burst out, “that sounds like God’s voice!” She said that she’d been in a Bible study where members were wondering aloud how to tell if a “voice” was God’s or not. “I think it might be God telling me something, but I’m not sure. How can I be sure?” they asked.
What does God’s voice sounds like?
Admittedly, I’m not particularly aurally-focused. I don’t notice the nuances of voices the way that I notice gradations of color or twinges of taste. There are some songs that I can recognize by just the first few chords, but I’m forever attributing songs to the wrong artists and I hate playing the “Hello, it’s me!” game on the telephone (on the very, very rare occasion that my caller ID hasn’t already identified the number). I’ve found that God’s voice can be difficult to identify, too.
Being more visually and tactile-ly focused, I’ve noticed that my body often has a reaction when I see someone. When a person who is anxious walks toward me, I stiffen a bit, putting on anti-anxiety armor, hoping not to get caught up in the whirlwind myself. When my beloved walks through the door, I soften; home is where the heart is, and when he’s around, it’s home. This is probably part of the reason that I’ve come to love yoga so much–it’s body-and-mind-together training. Through my body, I’ve come to better recognize God’s voice.
Since I was in elementary school, I’ve gotten tension headaches and neck-aches and shoulder-aches, always along with a very tight-feeling throat and stomach. I used to think this was a sign that I was getting sick, and will never forget the airplane ride I survived with an air-sickness bag pressed to my lips, certain I was soon to lose my dinner. I wasn’t, but there was something “in” me that was bothering me. My headaches are a way that I’ve come to know something is not right, leading me to crave quiet and peace to receive an answer. My heart turns my recent life over and over, the fingers of my mind studying the crags of my week, searching for the offending, undigested piece.
Listening to that “voice” has helped me to better recognize God’s direction in my life. It’s not a fail-safe method for me, and it’s not necessarily generalizable either. Did that dead body rise when my friend touched it? No. She recounts being relieved no one really noticed her, and dashing back to her minivan. Sometimes we get God’s voice terribly wrong, but what else is there to do but try again?
When my friend affirmed God’s word to me last week, it was a revelation that had been the result of turning my last weeks over and over in my hands and heart. I’d been holding a question in my hands and heart for months, bringing it especially to the front of my mind on Sunday mornings. I was desperate for a sign, and during most weekdays I’d have one answer, over and over. On Sundays, though, the answer seemed to be exactly the opposite; “what is going on??” I’d ask myself and God.
God’s word came finally through Scripture itself. The most potent recipes are, for me, the ones when I mix together God’s Word and my life experiences. In the last few years, I’ve learned to recognize God’s voice best through Old Testament stories, especially ones in Genesis & Exodus.
When I thought about the manna God offered His people as they wandered in the wilderness, I realized that what I’d been interpreting as an answer might instead be bits of manna, helping me to stay alive in the wilderness. Manna wasn’t a sign for the Israelites to settle in for the rest of their lives in the barren wasteland, but a bit of grace in the midst of the wilderness, something to help them bear the trial they endured.
God gives us the tools we need to recognize and listen to his voice, and like any relationship, it changes a little bit all the time. Studying God’s voice from the beginning of time–in Scripture–helps me to recognize when it might be God calling. Combing through my life with a Scriptural lens makes sense of things that seem blurry on their own. At the very least, things never get stagnant with God; the voice is neither predictable nor pedantic, God speaks to each of us individually in a way that’s most effective, most full-of-learning (sometimes most-painful) for you or for me.
What unites us in our (appropriately) individualized relationships with God is the Word of God–Jesus, and the witness to the God who became human given to us by thousands of years of our brothers and sisters in the pilgrimage, through Scripture. So, while each of us hears God a little differently, we’re all trying to listen to the same God, the one who was revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one who is Jesus. As we gather together (in church, at dinner parties, at bars) for study, worship, and prayer, we compare notes of how God has revealed himself to each of us in the past and how our experiences hold up against the Bible.
My experience is not nearly as exhaustive, diverse, and deep as the ones recorded in Scripture, and though they’re also interactions recounted by imperfect, biased, enculturated people, God has let those particular accounts of himself through thousands of years of his seekers, through wars and destruction and being outlawed. There’s got to be something specially significant about those words, preserved for our use, devotion, and study.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10