A few months ago, I found myself alone in a hotel room, so I spent a little time in prayer, and then I opened the Scriptures. For reasons I will explain later, it had been a good while (on purpose) since I had read anything out of the Bible. Since I was not in the middle of a “reading program,” any choice of where to read would have been nearly random. For no particular reason, I opened to Isaiah 1. That seemed slightly less random than starting at Isaiah 13 or Job 32.
I read just two and a half verses.
Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth;
For the LORD speaks
I found this so astounding that I had to stop reading and closed the Bible.
* * * * *
A while back, one of the guys in my small group suggested we read through Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God.” I am pretty sure that everyone in the group would agree that this book was a difficult read (many of Willard’s books are!) The idea that it might be a normal Christian experience to hear God’s voice sort of weirded us out. We tend to think that people who hear voices are mentally unstable at best and crazy at worst. No one is going to admit that they hear voices, especially God’s. Still, we were intrigued by the concept.
We got about half way through the book when my friend was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. We never finished the book. It still sits on my shelf; the second half comprised of virgin paper and ink.
Then I read Isaiah 1:2 in that hotel room. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe the more appropriate metaphor is a blast of fresh air. When I speak at the dinner table, I expect my family to listen. When I give a lecture, I expect the class to listen. But when God speaks, He expects all of heaven and earth to listen! As grand a thought as this is, however, it wasn’t this implication that startled me so. It was the fact that God speaks at all. “For the LORD speaks.” Think about that.
* * * * *
We live in a culture of a million voices, but not one of them belongs to God. There is certainly no expectation on the part of unbelievers that God will speak. Evangelicals will tell you that, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” Period. Jesus was the last word; don’t expect to hear anything else. Seems that Christians and non-Christians have some common ground on this point. Of course, the Pentecostals will tell you they hear God every Sunday, at least. I wonder if they have the corner on God’s spoken word. No worries, though. God has spoken through Jesus; we have His word in the Scriptures. That’s good enough, apparently.
But then I read Isaiah 1:2.
While reading Willard’s book, my small group talked about hearing God. None of us had ever heard God speak, though. Oh, we had heard Him speak through circumstances or through the Bible or by way of Christian brothers. But, none of us had ever heard His voice.
I had to wonder why. If God speaks, and if He expects all of heaven and earth to listen, then why had I never heard Him? Henri Nouwen provides a significant clue.1
…it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us.
Nouwen opened up the possibility that maybe I would hear God’s voice if I would just shut up for a minute.
1 Henri Nouwen. Making all things new. Harper, NY 1981.