And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. (1 Samuel 3:1, ESV)
For so many of my almost 37 years following the Lord, there has been no frequent vision, at least not for me. My “words from the Lord” have come through sermons and books I read. Even Scripture as I read it did not seem to be “alive” to me. My life was directed by what I saw others doing and what others “suggested” that I should be doing. You know, good Christian suggestions like, “You are going to go to a Christian college, aren’t you?” “Don’t date her—I don’t think she is Spirit-filled.” “All real Christians do ____/never do ____.” There always seemed to be someone within a stone’s throw willing to give me his personal advice on where I was failing to live up to the moniker of “good Christian.” With friends like this, who needed to hear God’s voice himself?
But three years ago this month God began to do something completely different in me. I remember the day, the hour, the location when in July of 2007 God began messing in my heart in a new way. He let me taste of him and I saw that it was good. It was like I was given beef tenderloin after eating “meat” hot dogs all my life. I never wanted to go back to hearing God third-hand. I only wanted to experience him through him. But it was a skill I was sadly lacking.
Hearing God’s voice seems to come so naturally to some. Still others speak a lot about hearing God, but the way they repeat what he “said” to them and the way they act it out leads one to believe the voice they heard may have come from just a little lower than Heaven. Then there are the multitudes who never experience God for themselves and seem to be ok with that.
I was one to whom God came in person, tapped me on the shoulder, and then ran off, expecting me to chase after him. I have been running after him for the past three years, dancing a crazy, wild dance with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Merton says, “It is not we who choose to awaken ourselves, but God Who chooses to awaken us.” God chose to awaken me, and I have not slept since.
In this awakening came a clarity of his voice as well. I began to hear him much more intimately than ever before. He began to reveal himself in whispers, echoes and occasional shouts in my inner ear. While that sounds as if it would be wonderful, it is more often frightening. After all, this is God we are talking about.
So how can we be sure that the voice we are hearing really is God? And what about when he calls us to do something that makes no sense, that seems to be opposed to everything we’ve learned as Christians? What happens when he directs us to go on a path that everyone else says is the wrong direction, people we have trusted and looked up to? What then? After all, doesn’t the Bible say…
The four Pevensie children and Trumpkin the dwarf are trying to find their way to Aslan’s How to meet up with Prince Caspian. The land has changed so much since they had been there last, but Peter thinks he knows the way they are to go. He uses his wisdom and knowledge the best he can and comes up with a plan. But as so often happens, the Lion interrupted their plan.
“Where? What?” everyone asked.
“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.
“Do you really mean—?” began Peter.
“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.
“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”
“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.
“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”
“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.
“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”
Of course the children don’t go where Lucy says she saw Aslan. They go the way Peter planned out. You can guess how it turned out. After a day’s worth of very difficult travel, they ran into an enemy patrol and barely escaped without getting shot. They hid in the woods for the night, knowing they would have to retrace their steps in the morning and try a different route. Sleep came quickly after they had eaten. But sleep did not last long for Queen Lucy.
Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.
Somehow I think the key to Lucy—and us—hearing from God is longing for that voice more than any other. Lucy went off in search of the one who called her. She found him, to her great joy, and after snuggling with the great lion for a few minutes, she heard him speak to her.
“Lucy,” he said, “we must not be here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”
“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”
From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.
“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh will, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”
Aslan said nothing.
“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
“Oh dear,” said Lucy.
“But anyone can find out what will happen.” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up, and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”
And that is just what Lucy does. She goes back and wakes the others. Of course they are tired and grouchy and sore at being awoken in the middle of the night. And what’s more, they still can’t see Aslan. Why is it that Aslan is only appearing to Lucy and not to the others? We are not told in so many words, but we see it clearly: Aslan wants the others to learn to walk in faith, not by sight. Only after they begin walking in the direction Lucy says they are to go will they see Aslan for themselves. I feel so sorry for Lucy, for that is the place I find myself right now. Having heard God clearly and yet others not hearing him. George Carlin said, “Those who dance are considered to be insane by those who can’t hear the music.” Why is it that only I am hearing the music?
A Retreat With Monks
The week before last I was scheduled to go on a private retreat at a working monastery somewhere in the midwest. (How is that for vagueness? Find your own monastery!) I had planned this retreat months in advance, but as it drew nearer I knew what it was I was going for: I wanted to know for sure that what I was hearing in my heart was from God and not just my imagination running away with me. But God was unable to hold himself back until I reached my retreat destination. The night before I was to go, my sister in law, someone who has spoken prophetically into my life over the years, pulled me aside and said the Lord had given her a word for me that I was to hear before I left for the weekend.
“God wants you to know,” she began, “that you are a prophet and a visionary. That the words you are hearing in your heart about people and places are from him; you can trust them. But you are to learn the difference between things you are to act into existence, and things you are to pray into existence.”
I wept openly. This was exactly what I wanted and needed to hear. My sister in law had no idea what I was asking God to show me. I hadn’t shared this with her at all. Oh, she knew about one of the pressing things in my life, and she had a specific word about that one thing for me, but as for the overall, that had to come from God. No one else had heard the cry of my heart. I asked her to repeat everything she had said. Then I had her repeat it again. “The words you are hearing about people and places are from him. You can trust them.”
I went on the retreat anyway, of course. And God overwhelmed me in incredible ways—of course. I met with the guestmaster of this house—let’s call him Father Daniel. I shared briefly the journey God has had me on these past three years. I didn’t get into the areas of need in a specific way. I just asked him how I could know for certain I was hearing from God, and not just me. Fr. Daniel reached across, put his big hand on my shoulder, and with the kindest eyes I have ever seen, looked deep into me and said, “Son, you are walking with God. You are hearing him. Keep walking with him. You may have to go it alone, but never stop walking with God.”
More tears. A lot more. Wasn’t it Jeremiah who was known as the “weeping prophet”? I think I know a little bit why. When God speaks, it is an awesome thing.
How does he speak to us, anyway?
In the book of Acts we see a number of different ways God chooses to speak to the early church. He uses angels (1:10, 8:26, 12:9), an audible voice (9:4), visions and trances (9:10, 10:10, 22:17). He uses flesh-and-blood prophets (9:10, 11:28, 21:10) and dreams (16:9). He spoke when the apostles had been fasting and worshipping (13:2). He even uses the Holy Spirit as a form of roadblock, forbidding Paul from going to specific places (16: 6-9). I’m sure I’m missing others. The point is that God speaks to his people in a variety of ways. There are no models or methods that he always sticks to. He can use an inanimate object like a bush that burns but is not consumed. He can use a jackass that is smarter than the one riding him. When God wants to speak, how he speaks is not the issue. What is the important thing is this: Will we listen?
The Only Reason God Speaks
I have clearly heard from the Lord in one of the situations I am facing. It could not be anything other than God speaking to me. Yet what he is calling me to is totally crazy. It goes against all common sense—unless one can somehow contrive to see from an eternal perspective. And yet…yet…I see Aslan—Jesus—in this. And that is the bottom line. There is no revelation that God gives his people that is for any reason other than to reveal Jesus. That’s the test. Does what you have heard in your heart lift up Jesus? Sure, it may seem impossible or crazy, but does it lift up Jesus? (“Mary,” said the angel, “you, a virgin, are going to have a baby without sleeping with a man. Oh, and the baby is going to be God himself.” Start with that one. If what you hear is no crazier, and it lifts up Jesus, give it a chance.) If Jesus is not revealed in what you hear, drop it. God does not come to tell you things just to make your–or my–life better. (“Hey there! God here. Why not place a bet on Raindrop to win in the sixth at Santa Anita?” I don’t think so…)
Jesus. That is the entire purpose of the Spirit of God who lives in us. Jesus.
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16: 13-14, NKJV)
The Holy Spirit will tell us of things to come, but only when doing so lifts up Jesus.
Yet right now I struggle. I struggle mostly because I feel like Lucy—like I have seen and heard Aslan where others have not. It is so hard to get someone else to follow when they have not seen like you have. I understand that very well. There are many times I have wished Jesus had picked on someone else to do the seeing and hearing. Just tell me where I am supposed to go–I don’t have to see for myself. I’ll follow another. Maybe. But Aslan appeared to me and said, “Come.” What is my choice? I can follow him, even though none go with me. Or I can make my own plans and go my own way. I can even couch my own way in Scripture and good traditions and common sense. But when the lion has called for me to come with him, even though it makes no sense (think of Peter and his vision of the lowered sheet in Acts 10. How much sense did that make? How well did that line up with all Peter had learned and believed up until then?) I must obey. I must follow.
That’s where I am. I make no claims to be anything more than a stumbler and bumbler when it comes to knowing how to hear God’s voice. I still must learn when I am to act something into existence and when I am to pray something into existence. But my biggest challenge comes when I know beyond any doubt what God has spoken to me. It is then that the game begins. What will happen? There is only one way of finding out.