Comedian Lily Tomlin remarked, “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying—but when God speaks to us, we’re said to be schizophrenic?
I suspect this unkind double standard remains aloft because of the updraft generated by people who pin their unwise choice on the voice of God. More altitude is gained from those who claim they have heard from God what others should do. How convenient that it aligns to their self-interests. Misguided enthusiasm and veiled manipulation masquerade as God-speech. That is crazy!
For most of my Christian life, I have hesitated to assert that I have heard the voice of the Lord and have played the skeptic when others make such declarations. To be safe and faithful, I apply several filters to ensure nothing is received that is not in order. Some of my filters polarize around fear. I am afraid of looking foolish, or being wrong or not being in control. Others polarize along conventions. This is the way I am used to, the way things have been and surely the way they should continue.
Filters Abound, Faith Not So Much
Compounding filters lead to unintentional results. Just grab a pair of polarized sunglasses. They do a great job of filtering out flare. Add another pair at right angles to the first and together them eliminate both the unwanted glare and the sun. More is not always better. Could it be that all my fears and all my conventions conspire to blot out my capacity to hear the voice of the Lord? Not good!
We Can Hear Who We Know
Jesus made it clear that to truly hear the voice of the Lord one needed to be in right relationship with him. He used the imagery of a good shepherd who knows his sheep and his sheep know him. This is not a superficial acquaintance but a close relationship like the one that exists between the Father and the Son (see Jn 10:14-15). It is a relationship of true concern by the Shepherd for the sheep and real confidence by the sheep in the leadership of the Shepherd. The sheep follow his voice not because they must but because they know the Shepherd will lead them to green pasture and quiet waters.
Is there not more to discerning the voice of the Lord? Sure. I can think of three: the Spirit, other Saints and Scripture. But if we don’t rightly trust the Lord, we won’t truly hear his voice. It doesn’t matter how many other ‘helps’ we marshal to assist.
Is there a concrete area of your life that you struggle to trust the Lord to lead? Relinquish your grip and pray to the Good Shepherd that he would show himself trustworthy.