A friend of mine recently went back to visit a town where he had lived for many years. It had been about ten months since he moved. While visiting, he went through the drive-through of his favorite coffee shop. While ordering, the guy in the store recognized his voice and said, "Hey, it’s good to have you back.” My friend never gave his name. The guy just recognized his voice.
When he told me this story, we joked that you know you have a severe coffee habit when the drive-through guy recognizes your voice after having been gone for ten months! It also makes me wonder how many other voices this same drive-through attendant has learned over the years?
I would imagine that after a while, listening to hundreds of voices through a muffled drive-through speaker would make them all start to sound the same. But perhaps, when you’re exercising your sense of hearing all day, you get pretty good at noticing the distinct differences in people’s voices.
That’s exactly the point of what Jesus is saying in John 10. When listening to God’s voice, it should be distinctly different from every other voice. Jesus says to the Pharisees,
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (v1-5, emphasis added)
The New Testament assumes that God regularly speaks to His followers and that they can recognize His voice. But I’ve never met anyone who has ever heard an audible voice from God. Which raises the question, if we’re not hearing an audible voice, how are we supposed to recognize God’s voice? Here are four quick clues to help you practice recognizing God’s voice.
1. It might be quieter than we think.
1 Kings 19 tells the story of the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb. While resting in a cave on the mountain, God tells Elijah to go out to the mouth of the cave because His presence is about to pass by. Then all sorts of wild natural manifestations of God’s power take place.
There’s a strong wind that almost rips the mountain apart. There’s an earthquake that shakes the ground beneath Elijah’s feet. Then there’s a fire that could very well set the mountain ablaze. But the Scriptures tell us that God wasn’t present in any of those things.
Next, came a gentle whisper. And we are told that God was in the whisper. I tend to look for God to speak in big dramatic ways like earthquakes, windstorms, and fire when often He’s speaking in a gentle whisper.
In my previous post, I talked about what Dallas Willard calls the “inner voice.” The soft whisper of God attempting to get our attention in the quiet place of our soul. In order to hear and tend to it, we must practice the discipline of being still.
2. It should sound like the Scriptures.
God is present with and speaking to us as we spend time in the Scriptures.
Just this morning I was studying in preparation for an upcoming sermon. I was anxious to start studying because I wasn’t as familiar with the passage and was expecting it to be a struggle to glean different insights from the text. Before I started, I said a short prayer telling God about my anxiety. To my surprise, as I began to read every other verse jumped off the page as though God was saying, “I want you to know this. Take a look at that. I want you to share this in your message.”
We should have the expectation that God’s Spirit is active when we are spending time in the Scriptures, and He will open our eyes and our minds to things He wants us to learn. And as we read and dwell in the text, we should anticipate that we are simultaneously being trained to recognize God’s voice.
3. It should sound like Jesus.
The Word of God created the world (John 1:3). The Word of God is sustaining all things at every moment (Heb. 1:3). The Word of God is alive and active (Heb. 4:12). And we are told that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14).
Therefore, we should expect that God’s voice will sound like Jesus. As we read the gospels and observe the way that Jesus connected with people, we should expect that Jesus will interact with us in the same way. There are multiple ways that we could describe what Jesus does when he speaks to people, but a significant part of Jesus’ speech was continually inviting people into kingdom partnership.
Therefore, we should expect that God is inviting us to join with Him in serving and loving the people in our community. We shouldn’t be surprised if we get a prompting through God’s “inner voice” calling us to reach out to a neighbor or share an encouraging word with a co-worker. God is regularly calling us to participate with Him.
4. It should sound like good news.
Too often we have these thoughts cycling through our heads that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t know what you’re doing. No one cares about you.” But Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, we can rest assured that those ideas in our heads are not from the Lord.
God is not one who accuses. That’s what Satan does. The word “devil” in the New Testament literally means “the accuser.” Therefore, when the phrases mentioned above start to play in our heads, we can be confident that those accusations are from the devil rather than God.
During the moments when those phrases are cycling through our heads, one way to combat them is to preach the gospel to ourselves. If you’re not sure what that would look like, go to the end of Romans 8 and read v31-39 directly to your own soul and trust that these are God’s words to you.
God is regularly trying to get our attention and communicate His love for us through a variety of means. The more we practice identifying God’s voice, the easier it will be to recognize it, and the deeper our relationship with Him will grow.