The evening of my 16th birthday I sat on the front porch of my house in Toledo, Ohio and waited. I was convinced that God was going to give me a white jeep that day. I didn’t especially like white jeeps and if I were to dream about a car it would probably have been a BMW or something . . . but for whatever reason I felt God had “spoken” to me and that I would be getting a white jeep for my birthday.
All I can do is laugh and shake my head now. What was I thinking? Where on earth did I ever get such an idea? And more importantly WHY would I tell just about everyone I knew about it? Pretty embarrassing.
Needless to say I did not get the white jeep (I waited until midnight) so I had a bit of soul-searching to do afterwards.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has mistaken the voice of the Lord for something so foolish. (I’m sure I’m also not the only one who thought they knew who they were going to marry at age 16. Turns out, I was wrong again. And no, I didn’t think I was going to marry Brad Pitt.)
The Scriptures give us countless examples of God speaking to humanity. Through nature, through circumstances, directly, and indirectly, God has ways of getting through to us if we are willing to listen. Regardless of our age or life experience if we want to grow in our relationship with Jesus, all of us will ultimately have to learn how to discern his “voice” for ourselves.
I’ve heard it said that the best way to discern the voice of the Lord is by knowing him. Although it seems like it would be the opposite—direct communication is vital in getting to know someone—I think there is something to be said about getting to know the ways and character of God first in order to discern if what we are hearing or feeling or experiencing is truly from him.
One of the best places to learn how and why God communicates to humanity is obviously through the Scriptures. How did he communicate before? What did he usually communicate about? What was the result of his communication? Did it bring peace? Chaos? Deeper understanding? Did he speak to guide, to empower, to enlighten or to excite? Were his messages sent to boost my ego or excite me about worldly things or were they sent to remind me of my need for him?
The same questions can and should be asked about religious experiences. When we feel a strong presence in a church or religious function how do we discern if it is really God and not emotion? Some worship services are exciting and captivating but the only way we can determine whether or not it is truly God’s presence is if it has the same impact on us that God himself would have. Excitement alone doesn’t mean God is present. I get excited watching the Olympic trials and feel strong emotion when watching a good musical theater production.
Over the years I have discovered time and time again that God is not as “far off” as I far too often think. He is constantly guiding, speaking, breathing . . . and it’s actually not my job to sit for hours and try to discern it all. My job is to do whatever it is he has put in my hands to do each day and trust that he will speak directly to my heart and guide me when I need him to.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
It is no longer just God’s “voice” or “presence” that I long or look for, as though I can’t possibly function in this life unless my senses are touched in some way. It is God himself I want to know—his character, his purpose . . . it’s difficult to describe, but the reality of God’s constant presence in my life has become even more apparent to me as I have stopped striving to “hear” or “feel” and have started to simply listen and observe (and simply obey what I DO know) instead.
“The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD is over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is majestic.” Psalm 29
“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Genesis 1:3