You’ve seen NFL quarterbacks doing that on the field during a game. What are they doing?
The quarterback has a tiny little receiver (there’s a Wes Welker joke right here, but I’m letting it go) in his helmet so the offensive coordinator up in the pressbox can talk to him. The quarterback is trying to block out all the noise from the crowd in the stadium so he can hear the only voice he really needs to hear. He’s trying to block out the distractions so he can hear his coach who has a broader view of the field and a bigger picture understanding of what’s happening in the game. He needs to hear the voice from above, the voice of the one who wrote the playbook and developed the game plan, the voice he most needs to hear.
You’re never going to move in your discipleship unless you know that our God is dynamic and personal and active in his communicating with you. You’ve got to intentionally listen for his voice and it’s got to be more than just the Bible.
Now, hold on. Before you get all tuned up, let me explain.
The Bible is the voice of God. I believe that with all my heart. I believe and I preach and teach and live by my belief in the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God. The Bible is the voice of God. But the voice of God is not limited to the Bible.
What about Christians who never owned a Bible? What about the tens of millions of Christians over the past two-thousand years who have never even seen a Bible? Can they not have a relationship with God? Why does God’s Holy Spirit live inside us if everything we need is in the Bible? Being guided directly and personally by God’s Spirit within us is normal for a disciple of Christ.
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” ~Romans 8:14
The book of Acts is OUR book and finding a pattern in Scripture is OUR thing. And in Acts, it’s normal for Christians to get God’s Word both from Scripture and outside of Scripture.
In Acts 8, an angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to take the Gaza Road. The Spirit, it says, tells Philip to jump in the chariot.
In Acts 9, the Lord calls to Ananias in a vision. Ananias answers, “Yes, Lord.” He knows who’s talking to him. The Lord told Ananias to find Saul, another guy he’s been talking to in a vision.
In Acts 10, an angel of God speaks to Cornelius. This non-Christian answers, “What is it, Lord?” He knows what’s happening. The angel tells him to find Peter. Later on, Peter is being addressed by the voice. Twice, it says, the voice speaks to Peter. And Peter acknowledges it as the voice of the Lord.
In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit tells Paul and his companions not to preach in Asia. The Spirit of Jesus, it says, would not allow them to go to Bithynia. During the night in Troas, Paul has a vision of the guy in Macedonia which caused them to leave immediately, “concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).
The way Luke gives it to us in Acts, it’s normal. He doesn’t write, “By the way, this was really weird.” It reads like the standard operating procedure for followers of Jesus to be led by the voice of God. So is the book of Acts a collection of exceptions or a collection of examples? Is hearing the voice of God no longer relevant for life in Christ, or is it the way life in Christ is supposed to be?
I was raised in and by the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas, a medium-sized and very conservative congregation of God’s people. But we articulated these very things in our worship together every Sunday. We would pray for the preacher to have a ready recollection. We would ask God to bring us back at the next appointed time. We would pray for the Lord to guide, guard, and direct us (for the longest time, I thought that was one long word, like a theological word in Greek, like guidguardandirectus). It was normal for us to pray for God’s daily direction.
We would sing it, too. Guide me, O thou great Jehovah. He leadeth me, O blessed thought! Break, thou, the bread of life; beyond the sacred page. He walks with me and he talks with me. My God and I, we walk and talk as good friends should and do. We would pray it and we would sing it, but we would never preach it or teach it – that two-way communication with God is normal.
There are several reasons you might not be hearing God. One might be that you don’t expect to. If you’re not expecting to hear God’s voice, then you’re not listening for it. Maybe people told you that you can’t hear God or that God doesn’t talk anymore. Maybe no one ever taught you how to hear God. Or maybe you don’t want to hear God. Maybe you prefer a silent God. A non-talking God is a lot easier to deal with. If you hear the voice of the Lord, it might change your agenda, it might blow up your whole life.
In John 5, Jesus tells the religious experts, you diligently study the Scriptures, but you’ve never heard the Father’s voice. It’s possible to be an expert in the Bible and be lousy about hearing God.
How will Jesus know his disciples? They hear my voice, he says.
If you are going to talk this way, maybe we should address the real issue which is what is meant by “talk.” The dictionary says talk is “communicate by spoken word.” We all understand how sound waves and vocal chords and ear drums work. We all know what is generally meant by talk.
When you say walking and talking with Jesus is like talking to a friend, you are trying to say too much. Neither you nor I nor anyone hears Jesus like we hear a friend. What we have is thoughts and feelings that we would like to believe come straight from God. We all know there is no way of confirming this. No matter how much we protest, talking with a friend will always be more real than “talking” with God.
The difference between people who hear God talk and those who don’t is the willingness of the former to make out-sized claims, and the reluctance of the latter to be so bold. We all know that the Bible says Ananias and Cornelius heard God. What we don’t know is whether they are claiming to have really heard him or just in the “wink-wink” way we hear him. My guess is that people back then were just as willing to exaggerate as we are today
We don’t only have thoughts and feelings, we also have real experiences: God’s audible voice in a dream, God’s audible voice through a brother or sister in Christ at exactly the right time, God’s audible voice straight to my heart by the Holy Spirit in a brand new way when I’m reading Scripture, God’s audible voice within the community of faith during a sermon or a song.
Two-way communication with the Lord is not the same as communicating with a friend over a cheeseburger or even over the phone – you’re right about that. And you are correct in that some of us do exaggerate our experiences. But, our God has not developed laryngitis. He is still speaking to his children today.
“The one who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” ~John 8:47