Is anybody listening?

Have you ever heard God’s voice? I mean really heard His voice, not just an inkling in your spirit? I always imagined God to sound like a big black man. Like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. But I’ve never actually audibly hear God’s voice. Truth be told, most Christians haven’t. And almost as many would probably say that they’ve never really felt an unction in their spirit, either. Why is that? Does God not speak? Or are we not listening?

A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, there was a boy who heard a voice. It called his name in the night. The boy got up and ran to his mentor asking what was required of him. The old man told the boy to go back to sleep, no one had called him. Again, the voice called and the boy ran. The old man, once more sent him back to bed. Yet again the voice called the boy’s name and he got up. Finally, the old priest, Eli, realised what was happening. This time, he instructed the boy to respond a certain way when he heard the voice.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV)

Many imagine the voice of the Lord to be a terrible thing, shaking the earth and splitting stones. But a sound like that would have terrified a child in the night. Instead, Samuel immediately ran to Eli. God’s voice sounded familiar to him.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12, the voice of God spoke to Elijah. After a powerful wind, an earthquake, and fire, he heard a gentle whisper.

In Isaiah 6, the sound of angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” shook the temple, and afterward, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord calling to him.

In Acts 9, Saul was brought to a sudden stop with a blinding light. When the Lord called out to him, Saul knew immediately who spoke.

No two accounts of man hearing the voice of God are the same, but they all have a couple of things in common.

  1. They weren’t afraid. None of these people feared or cowered at God’s voice. His voice was familiar and, in most cases, gentle. Unlike the angels—who always had to tell people not to fear, God’s voice is nothing to cringe at.
  2. They were listening. In some cases, God had to get someone’s attention. In the case of Samuel, it was the fourth time that was a charm. In the case of Saul, He had to blind him to get him to listen. But they listened.

Close your eyes. Listen. How many sounds can you identify as you sit where you are? At the moment, I can hear the fan of a heater and my computer, I hear the fridge in the next room, there’s a car speeding up the hill near my house, and a clock is ticking on the wall above me. I hear the landlord’s footsteps on the hardwood floor overhead and the house creaking as it settles. Most of those sounds I can’t even turn off.

Our ears and our minds are constantly bombarded with noise and then we have the audacity to claim that God isn’t speaking or that, if He wanted to get our attention, He would. Only in very special cases, like Saul (who later became known as Paul), did God arrest someone to give them a certain message. We allow distractions to fill our heads to our own detriment. Most of us can’t stand the silence. Yet that’s where God’s voice usually is.

We need to make time to listen. We need to block out the noise to hear. I am confident in this: God wants to speak to you.

He 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 (NIV)

Those are Jesus’ words, not mine. If we really, truly belong to God, we’ll make time for Him. We will listen, not for the wind or the quaking, but the whisper.

Is anybody listening?

Read: 1 Samuel 1-3, Luke 12:1-34

That loud crowd

Read: Leviticus 15-17, Matthew 27:1-31

A crowd is contagious. At the moment, much of the world is currently wrapped up in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Once every four years, I watch winter sports. In the past few days, I have been wrapped up in snowboarding hearing terms like chicken salad, 1440, goofy-footed, McTwist, amplitude, and pretzels. I can talk about the sport like I actually know something about it—which I don’t. But I’m part of the crowd, cheering on anyone wearing a maple leaf whether I’ve heard of them or not. I have jumped on the Olympic bandwagon just like I do every other year.

A couple of thousand years ago, there was another crowd of bandwagoners. Whether they shared the opinion or not, a group of people gathered to shout and, eventually condemn an innocent man to death.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Matthew 27:22-23 (NIV)

I don’t know if the crowd just happened to be there, or if they awaited the annual customary release of a prisoner, or if they’d been paid to be there by members of the Sanhedrin. But they were there. They were loud. And none of them could answer Pilate’s question—at least not loud enough to be heard. They shouted for the sake of making noise and, because they were so loud, anyone who could have been able to speak against them was either drowned out or too afraid to speak out.

Still today, there are a lot of people out there making noise for no other reason than to make noise. They like the sound someone is making, so they join in the cacophony. If asked why they make noise, they just get louder.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, where were all the people who had welcomed him into the city just days before? Where were all the people who had been healed and set free? Jesus was not to ineffective in his ministry that there would not have been enough people to speak up for him.

But Jesus was passive. He was quiet. We should emulate him.

Yes, we should be like Jesus. As much as possible, we should strive to be just like him. But this moment, during and after his arrest, was the only time when Jesus was quiet. He knew what he had to do and he had resigned himself to it without putting up a fight. At no other point in his ministry did Jesus ever sit down and keep to himself in the face of lies.

If you know the truth that could set someone free, why not shout it out? Even if the crowd is loud, we should be louder because we know why we shout. The Book that we hold in our hands is not mere platitudes, but it is life. If you would only step out of the shadows and speak up, perhaps another person would find the courage to do the same. And then another. And another. And soon, the crowd proclaiming the truth will be louder than the crowd making noise.

Church, we should never, ever let that loud crowd shame or bully us into keeping quiet.

All of my life in ev’ry season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

Brooke Ligertwood, Desert Song

Sshhh…

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where everything is quiet and the peace of the Lord is permeating the room and you’re all just basking in the presence of God… then someone just has to fill the silence with what is usually a loud and long-winded prayer? There seem to be those who cannot abide the silence. Well, heaven is one long, unending praise and worship service. Maybe, but sometimes, worship includes silence.

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour.

Revelation 8:1 (NLT)

There are several theories as to the purpose or reason for this silence. Some believe that it is heaven—the elders and the angels surrounding the throne—waiting in expectation for what will follow the breaking of the seventh seal. Others believe that the cries of the saints below were so great that it silenced the heavenly host.

I believe that the silence itself is just as important as the reason.

There is a time for loud, boisterous, joyful praise. And there is a time for quiet contemplative worship. And there is yet a time for silence. How else are we to hear what God is saying if we never take the time to listen? We know from the Old Testament accounts that God can speak through a burning bush or He can speak in a still, small voice. Sometimes He needs to get our attention and other times we need to give Him our attention.

Whatever the reason for the half hour of silence in Revelation, all of heaven stood at attention. They waited. They listened. They prepared. There was a pause. A weighted silence.

Prayer, praise, worship—these things do not necessarily require sound on our part. Sometimes, the silence can hold more weight than words. If heaven can handle silence, so can we.

Daily Bible reading: Obadiah 1, Revelation 8

Sing!

Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:19-20 (NLT)

When I was a kid and my mom would still send me off to school, she’d stand on the front step and holler out a song title at my sister and I. She would then stand on the step until she could hear us singing the song as we walked down the street.

More often than not, that song would stay with us throughout the day and we’d come home singing choruses like This is the Day or Celebrate Jesus (it was the nineties, have a little grace).

Mom was on to something. Her intent was to send us off to school with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still asking God to give me songs to sing while I work. When I’m alone in an room with great acoustics, why wouldn’t I sing? And if someone else walks in the room and hears me praising God while I work, what does that matter?

Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs aren’t just things to do to fill the silence, but they are a byproduct of being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing him to control our lives. Verse 19 is preceded by this:

Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.

Ephesians 5:18b (NLT)

Then you will sing...

If you’ve got the Holy Spirit, don’t be afraid to sing the songs he puts in your heart. Even if you can’t sing. My dad always says that God told us to make a joyful noise. He never said it had to be on key.

So sing!

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 27-28, Ephesians 5

The sound of silence

Silence can be one of the most difficult things to endure. For many, a great deal of discomfort is found when all noise ceases. Most of us will feel a need to fill the void of sound with babble, the radio, a YouTube video, or just about anything that will permeate the air with something other than silence.

There are times, though, when God desires our silence. Remember on the mountain, Elijah did not hear God in the wind, the quake, or the fire, but in the whispering, small voice in the stillness that followed the cacophony. With his ears ringing from the violence that had just passed, Elijah would have had to be still and listen closely to hear anything at all let alone a quiet whisper.

Be silent, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honoured throughout the world.

Psalm 46:10 (NLT)

It is in the silence that God speaks to us. If we constantly fill our days with noise, how will we ever learn to hear His voice? If we never hear His voice, we will be more easily swayed by all of the other voices around us.

The Lord Almighty is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.
                                                      Interlude

Psalm 46:11 (NLT)

God is always around us. How often do we take notice of that fact? How often do we acknowledge Him? The Psalms are filled with interludes. In many translations, you’ll find selah following a phrase. It is an intentional pause, a time for purposeful reflection. The Lord Almighty is here among us. Here. Among us. Those are certainly words that could use some additional thought.

We should take time every day not to merely endure silence, but to actively seek it out. If it requires removing yourself to a quiet place, so be it. Leave behind the noise and distractions. See what you can learn. Often the sound of silence is far more revealing than the noise.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 44-46, Acts 25

Speak without a sound

Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.

Acts 19:32 (NLT)

There are a lot of people in a lot of places making a lot of noise. Like this crowd in Ephesus, they found a cause and joined the fray without even knowing why they were there. It all sounds too familiar. How much noise are we surrounded by? How many people are shouting to make their voice heard over the rest? How much of it really matters?

The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display his marvellous craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or a word;
their voice is silent in the skies;
yet their message has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to all the world.

Psalm 19:1-4a (NLT)

Isn’t in incredible that the crowd at Ephesus had to shout to be heard and most of them didn’t even know why they were shouting! Yet the heavens are silent in their declaration and their message can be heard across the entire world.

Think about your message today. Consider the volume of your words and actions. Are you adding to the noise or are you making a silent declaration?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 19-21, Acts 19:21-41

Whisper and shout

We live in a noisy world. You can’t even leave your house with noise of all sorts being thrust at you. It would seem that the loudest voices always win. Being heard is more important than being right.

When you strive to be heard, what are you shouting? Are you shouting simply to be heard? Or are you shouting truth?

What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ears, shout from the housetops for all to hear!

Matthew 10:27 (NLT)

We are to shout what God whispers. But I think we often get caught whispering what He shouts.

Here’s something to think about: if we’re always shouting, how can we ever hear God’s whisper? Perhaps it’s time to be quiet for a while and figure out what we should be shouting before we add to the noise.

Daily Bible reading: Genesis 31-32, Matthew 10:24-42

A little less conversation

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.

1 Corinthians 4:20 (ESV)

You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day.

If you are a fan of the TV show Person of Interest, you’d have heard the voice of Harold Finch recite the above quote many times.

We are being watched. Maybe the government has a machine, but more than that the world around us is the machine. We are being watched nearly every hour of every day.

As time goes by, it become more and more evident that words are no longer enough. They mean nothing. They are empty. No one is listening. It is our actions that speak so much louder.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)

If your words are only adding to the noise, perhaps it is time to be silent and let your actions speak for you. Is love something we merely talk about or is it something we do?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 119:49-104, 1 Corinthians 4