I am writing this post during the season of waiting. I am of course referring to the holidays, the Christmas season for Christians. We wait in line, we wait at red lights, we wait for packages to arrive, we wait for family to come home, we wait for Christmas Day. Waiting is hard, no doubt about it. It doesn’t help that God tells us to wait on Him as well. Why God? Why do I have to wait so much? Why can’t I have my prayers answered now? Why can’t I know your will now?
Probably the most well known verse, at least in my opinion, about waiting on God is Isaiah 40:31. “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Whenever I have heard this verse quoted, it is usually in conjunction with waiting for answers to prayers. We are told that we must trust God and wait for His timing. I have no doubt or argument with this premise. I have waited many years for my prayers to be answered, some of them I am still waiting on. But I would like to propose that there is something else we must also wait for when it comes to the Lord. His voice!
Many years ago, I was taking a class at my church and our teacher gave us some homework I considered so difficult that it felt like punishment. She told us to spend 2 hours a week sitting and waiting quietly before the Lord. We were to be silent, not reading, not praying, and it had to be in one period of time. The first few weeks that we were to do this, I fell asleep within minutes. Have you ever tried sitting quietly for two hours? But it taught me something. Most of us came back to class with the same report: we had fallen asleep. Her response was precious. “That’s ok”, she said, “you were sleeping in the arms of your Father”.
Because waiting on His voice is so hard, we have been taught by many that we cannot initiate hearing God. Or even better, God only speaks occasionally, and certainly not now, because we have His word, His Bible that speaks to us. We are told that silence from heaven is normal and that God only spoke to people in the past because they didn’t have the Scriptures. Perhaps we have not been taught this directly, but if you think about it, how many pastors teach about hearing the voice of the Lord? At best, we are taught that God is a man of few words, and He only says one word. He never speaks in full sentences or a paragraph.
But there is this thing that has always bothered me about hearing God’s voice. Jesus tells us in John 10:4-5 “And when he (Jesus) brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” What bothers me is that Jesus tells us here that the reason we are not led astray, or deceived by false prophets, false shepherds, false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing if you will, is because we don’t know their voices, we only know the voice of our shepherd. As a matter of fact, He says that we should know His voice so well, that when a stranger tries to get us to follow him, we flee!
If you’ve ever owned an animal, one that is loved and loves you, you will realize that they know your voice. Most animals will not follow a stranger. They only follow the voice of their master. It is the homeless animal, the lonely, abandoned animal roaming the streets, or left in a shelter, that follows a strangers voice, because it is looking for a home. Think on that. Are you looking for a home or do you know the voice of your Master, your Shepherd?
If Jesus wants us to know His voice, then why is it so hard for us to know it? Let me go back to that scripture in Isaiah 40. Isaiah tells us that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. That word wait is an interesting word in the Hebrew. It is translated in different ways, depending on the context it is used in. The first time it is used is by God Himself in Genesis 1:9 when He tells us that the waters would be “gathered together” at creation. Sometimes it is translated as looked for, expected, or even hope, and of course, wait. All these words make me think of one thing, relationship. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in my prayer room, waiting on Him, looking for Him, seeking Him, expecting Him to speak to me and heard nothing. But I did not give up. I waited and eventually, I heard His voice. The result: He renewed my strength. Did He ever test me to see if I was serious about hearing Him? Yes, all the time! Those early years, when I was still learning what His voice sounded like, the waiting seemed to take longer. He wanted to know just how serious I really was. Was He important enough for me to wait on Him? I learned that if I persevered, if I overcame the distractions, the impatience, the urge to give up, the desire to fall asleep, He would reward me by speaking to me. And yes, it has gotten easier to hear Him now.
So what are some of the things that I have learned over the years about hearing the voice of the Lord?
Perhaps the most important thing is that if I hear His voice today and He tells me something I need to listen and obey. Hebrews 3:15 tells us, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” The writer of Hebrews warns us that the Israelites did not enter the promised land because of their disobedience to God and their unbelief. I must be careful that I do not walk in these same sins, disobedience and unbelief.
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 that we are not to quench the Spirit. If I am a born again believer, and I have the Holy Spirit living in me, then it would seem only reasonable that the Spirit would speak to me. If I don’t want to hear what He is saying, by not listening for whatever reason, then am I not in fact “quenching the Spirit”?
God does not limit His Spirit. John the Baptist tells us in John 3:34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.” There are no measuring cups in heaven. He doesn’t give a 1/4 cup to some, and 2 cups to another. He speaks to all who will listen.
And that brings me to to my final point. Jesus Himself tells us in Mark 4:24-25, “Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Think about this last statement. The more you take the time to fellowship with the Lord, and listen for His voice, and believe that He wants to talk to you, the more He will speak to you. What a glorious promise that is. But, it comes with a warning. To those who don’t listen, who choose to close their ears, quench the spirit, disobey and walk away in unbelief, He will take away the ability to hear Him. It reminds me of what Jesus tells us in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Jesus sends 7 letters to 7 churches, and He ends every single letter with this admonition: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The Lord desires relationship. He tells us we are His friends, if we obey Him. But in order to be friends with someone, we have to be willing to spend time with them, listen to them and have a conversation with them. Good conversations have two ingredients: talking and listening! We must learn to wait on Him, to wait for His voice. If you have been running from His voice, afraid of what He might tell you, repent. If you lack the faith to believe He would speak to you, repent. He loves you and desires for you to know Him. How else will you know how to flee from strangers?