To hear the voice of God is one of the most wonderful things that can happen to us. Most people don’t hear an audible voice, although that can happen. The enemy of souls does not want us to hear the voice of God and will sometimes make us a bit afraid of it, in case His voice asks us to do something that we don’t want to, and the enemy is certainly afraid that God might speak to us and we hear and respond.
There’s a lovely verse in one of David’s psalms:
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with my eye. (Psalm 32:8)
I don’t think that thought of God’s eye being upon us is meant to strike fear into our heart, but rather a sense of relief, knowing that our heavenly Father has His eye upon us in all our ways. He says: I will instruct thee and teach thee.
When Paul was just converted, we read that very early on he didn’t consult with flesh and blood but went away by himself into Arabia for three years, and God revealed Himself, and revealed Christ to him. Now I know there’s a danger in this – because it is a good thing that we do listen at times to the advice of others, that we are open to it, and that we don’t think ourselves so self-sufficient or even sufficient in God that nobody can instruct us. But the other side of this is that sometimes we can have started off quite independent in God (or dependent on Him) in a good way, but we discover that we can get a lot of help from others, and we can begin to want the help and instruction to come that way. It can become easier: it’s like the people saying to Moses: ‘You go up the mountain, Moses, and hear what God has to say to us, and then tell us.’ But that would certainly not have satisfied Moses, to send someone else up instead of him. He certainly wanted himself to hear from God.
It must have been one of the sweetest moments for Adam in some ways when in that garden of Eden, after they had sinned, he heard the voice of the Lord God calling. We don’t know how long it was after they had disobeyed that that voice at last came. And although it brought judgment, it also brought mercy and hope.
God wants us to hear directly from Him and to become very dependent on His voice. You say: ‘Well, how will I know that voice? – because I’ve sometimes thought it was the voice of God and it’s taken me off in a direction that caused me to realize afterwards: I don’t think that was God at all.’
But we grow to recognize God’s voice, as we find again and again He speaks to us through His Word, and it certainly will be witnessed again and again by His Word – by the Bible. There is a sweetness in that voice. The voice of the enemy, as my father often used to say, has a sense of rush about it and tends to cause panic – you know, 'Do this now, or you will be damned for ever.' God doesn’t speak like that. Again and again His voice comes like a warmth within us. When Samuel heard the voice of God he thought it was Eli’s voice, the most familiar voice of the one who had become like a father to him. And that is again and again what the voice of God is like.
He allows us to come into circumstances where we are forced to seek Him and to hear His instruction, because sometimes there’s no one else that knows what the right thing is for us to do, or even knows that we’re maybe doing the wrong thing. But God does. Take a man like Hudson Taylor, who was preparing to go out to the mission field in China to pioneer that huge country for the gospel. He took himself deliberately into circumstances where he was alone and living by faith, and walking with God. He was so young, too (that is what strikes me about him): he was just 18 or 19, and he was 21 when he went to China. He’d learned to be wholly dependent on God, and so his faith grew. He deliberately put himself in these circumstances, but he did it because he actually did sense God telling him to. Most of us are not tested in the way that he was, but we certainly do come into situations where we can go from one to another looking for help. There is a place for that; that’s why these ministries of help are in the church. But oh, the sweetness of the hour when we turn from everything and everyone and say: ‘Lord, I need to hear from You.’
I remember Miss Taylor speaking of her desire to see a greater move of God in the church. After reading all sorts of different books about revival and suchlike, she eventually put them away and turned to God and said: ‘God, what do You say? Won’t You speak?’ Her room began to fill up with light as He began to give revelation to her.
It is a beautiful thing when we sense our deepest dependency has become on God, and we expect to hear that voice of God. Listen for Him, even this week. He speaks to us of Himself. He doesn’t tell us what He thinks we’re going to do for Him, but He speaks of Himself and gives us revelation. It can speak a word of comfort, and it can speak direction: I will guide thee and counsel thee; I will instruct thee and teach thee. And it certainly again and again speaks to us in our hour of deepest need, because then we are desperate and we become aware it is only God’s voice that we want, and we begin to shut out everything else to hear from Him.
Jonah is not the most attractive character in the Bible. He was one of those that Alison Speirs used recently as an illustration that gift and holiness don’t always go together. I’m sure he was holy in many of his ways of living, but he had certain qualities about him that were not good and not very holy, such as disobeying the voice of God that he quite clearly heard. But Christ Himself refers to Jonah, and we read of him in his hour of desperation:
I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and He answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and LORD, you heard me! … I said, O LORD, you have driven me from your presence. Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple. I sank beneath the waves … As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord, and my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy temple. (Jonah 2:2–8)
I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and He answered me. Christ refers to Jonah: ‘This is the only sign that will be given you. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights’ (Matthew 12:39–40: paraphrased).
I spoke last week on second chances. Jonah was one who was given a second chance. After disobeying God and being swallowed by the fish he went to Nineveh and preached there with outstanding results. But in the hour when he was in the belly of the fish and prayed, God answered him, and God gave him also, as He had to David, an insight into the Christ who was to come – because it’s Christ who uses Jonah’s experience as an example. Christ too would be buried. All the waves and billows would flow over Him also. He would sink beneath the waves of great suffering. He would be ‘imprisoned in the earth, whose gates lock shut for ever’, but He too would be ‘snatched … from the jaws of death’ (Jonah 2:6). He too cried from the cross in His hour of trouble: My God, why have you forsaken Me? He longed to hear that voice of his Father, and there was for a while no answer.
What a Saviour we have! He always answers us. He never leaves us too long. He didn’t leave Jonah in his desperate need: He answered him. We don’t know at what point Christ again became aware of the presence of God. We don’t know if it was just as He laid down His life and said: Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. But we know He is in His presence now. What did that Voice say to Christ as He returned home? Will we find that out when we get to heaven? Will that scene be re-enacted for us, as He comes up out of the deep grave, out of hell, where He was not allowed to see corruption, and He returns to His Father, bringing many sons to glory? Will we see when we get to heaven that hour when He goes in to His Father and says: ‘Father, it is accomplished’? The heavenly hosts must have made way for Christ as they welcomed Him in there.
Guided and counselled by God Himself when He was here on earth, He says to you and me: Listen for My voice. My sheep know My voice. I will bring you to the green pasture where you’ll know the eternal life of the eternal God. I will take you by the hand and I’ll bring you to My Father.
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