We limit ourselves
when we say, ‘I’m not the sort of person the Lord
would speak to.’ It honours Him when we attempt to
listen to His Still Small Voice.
In C S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the news that Aslan was
on the move never failed to cheer spirits and to be greeted
with wild enthusiasm. In our day, when the Lord is on the
move by His Spirit, and many are hearing Him leading,
warning and directing them with extreme clarity, it is vital
that we recognize the ways by which He speaks.
May I take a certain familiarity with the basic ways in
which the Lord communicates with us for granted? We have all
known times when a passage from the Bible, or a Christian
book, has taken on a special meaning, or when a preacher’s
words have spoken directly to our situation.
Such experiences reassure us of God’s care. He knows what we
are going through, and wants to share it with us.
We will likewise have known the Spirit’s prompting to ring
or visit someone at ‘just the right time.’ These are such
familiar experiences, that it is often only with hindsight
that we realize it really was the Lord speaking.
In this chapter, we are going to explore less the ‘nuts and
bolts’ of how we hear God speaking so much as consider how
we can gain confidence in recognizing the Still Small Voice.
Despite the confusion we all go through in seeking God’s
will, the Lord wants us to be alert to His leading – and to
teach young Christians to listen likewise.
This is what our friend Sally Mowbray wrote about
her early struggles in this respect:
When I was a younger Christian, I was constantly
afraid that I was not hearing God’s voice at all.
Then I came across this verse in John 10:17: ‘My
sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they
Suddenly it hit me: this was a statement of fact.
God said it, so it must be true! It was my feelings
that were off-beam. The thoughts in my head that
said I could not hear God’s voice were none other
than the ‘Father of Lies’ making a determined push
to have me give up even trying to listen.
When I started approaching life with the confidence
and expectation that I really could hear God’s
voice, I found it much easier to recognize when He
was speaking to me.
To help us discern the Shepherd’s accents amid the mass of
voices that clamour in our minds, it helps to bear in mind
that the Lord speaks to our spirit, and with greater clarity
than the mind produces. This may sound like a minor nuance,
but it is a serious distinction. When the Spirit speaks, we
are left with a deep assurance, even if we do not fully
understand all the implications of what He has said. When we
‘hear’ only our own fears, we are usually left with nothing
more substantial than a sense of confusion – or with a false
euphoria if we are heeding delusory desires.
When the Lord says the very thing we most wanted to hear, it
can be almost as hard to believe it as it is when He calls
us to face something more challenging. We are afraid we are
imagining the words of blessing and promise, just as we are
inclined to rebel against warnings of rebuke.
For Reflection and Prayer
Confidence and right
expectations are important aspects of listening to the Still
Small Voice. Paul always had confidence that God would turn
things out for the best(1)
- unlike a certain king of
Israel who was afraid to listen because he expected God’s
prophets to say nothing good about him.(2)
Which if these ‘extremes’ do you
If we only expect God to rebuke us, we have a seriously
distorted view of Him. Since Jesus is for us, and all He
says and does is designed to bless and develop us, why side
with the enemy’s hopelessly jaundiced and biased assessment
I dare to believe
That Your goodness is coming towards me.(3)
What You have promised You will bring to pass. Amen!
|Our ability to
hear varies from day to day
Be careful to drop vain
and useless thoughts the moment you become conscious of
them, but quietly, without effort or violence. Abandon to
Divine Providence all that might become a subject of
preoccupation for you. (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)
Did you see the film The Heroes of Telemark? Against
all the odds, courageous Allied saboteurs destroyed stocks
of heavy water that were vital to German scientists in their
bid to develop an atomic bomb. Their efforts were further
advanced than most people realize. Had the Nazis achieved
their goal, the war would have had a very different ending.
As is often the case, the real story is far more compelling
than the supposedly more dramatic Hollywood version.(4)
Amongst the unsung heroes of the Resistance movement were
the radio operators. These people took their lives in their
hands every time they made their transmissions, running the
gauntlet of sophisticated Nazi detection finding apparatus.
When radio reception was crystal clear, messages could
easily be transmitted and received. On other occasions, when
the static was strong, it was all but impossible to make
anything out. Most of us have similar experiences when it
comes to trying to listen.
It is worth recognizing from the outset that we will
experience times – even prolonged ones – when we will be
unable to hear anything at all. Illness deadens, the devil
opposes, our flesh mishears . . .these are such common
experiences that I will be devoting a whole book in the
Pilgrim’s Guide series to the theme of spiritual
On one occasion, when I was feeling particularly troubled
about this, the Lord reminded me that there are seasons in
the life of the soul, just as there are in nature. Even the
Lord Jesus knew times when the Spirit’s power was
By reverse logic, there must
have been times when the power of the Lord was less present
I find it awesome how calmly the Lord Jesus coped with
interruptions. Time and again, He would be on His way to
accomplish one mission, when something would crop up to
delay Him. May the Lord grant us discernment to tell the
difference between ‘God-incidencies’ and needless – or even
demonic – interruptions.
We should take extra care with revelations that come during
feverish or highly emotional interludes. Too many demands
can likewise clog and confuse the wavelengths of our mind.
Neither should we underestimate the furious efforts the
demonic forces make to ‘jam’ our communication. Far better
than we, they recognize the damage that will be done to
their kingdom when a person, group or fellowship is
following the leading of the Lord.
Although our ability to hear varies, there is often what I
term a ‘Five Minute Barrier’ to persevere through as
we try to bring our soul to stillness. During this period
(which can last a great deal longer than five minutes) we
may have to wrestle with all manner of wayward and
disturbing thoughts. It pays to jog down the more useful of
these as they come, so that we do not spend the rest of our
time worrying that we will forget to license the car or to
take the chicken out of the freezer.
Track down and isolate any other niggles in your soul.
Decide then whether to pray specifically about them – which
might be wisdom, but there again might only serve to play
into the Distracter’s hand. There are times when it is
better to push such thoughts resolutely to one side. Refuse
them house room!
Will we always break through the turbulence of our mental
clutter and come into the unhindered presence of God? I
would dearly love to say that we will, but realistically
this will not always be the case.
If, after a period of time, our thoughts are refusing to
settle, our spirits remain leaden, and daydreams are making
serious reflection impossible, we may be wiser to leave it
for the time being. Go and do something else instead.
On other occasions, we do reach a place of inner stillness
only to have to drag ourselves immediately away as other
duties beckon. It is better to have glimpsed and tasted than
to have made no real effort to seek the Lord. Something of
that inner peace will remain with us as we head into the
busyness of the day.
For Reflection and Prayer
serious are we about wanting to go deeper with the
Lord? We do not need to allow our attention to be
always taken up with worries, people and
tasks-to-do. I see a picture of the Lord, alone
standing with me.
I am facing Him, but these other things are
‘hangers-on,’ clawing at me and demanding my
attention. I watch my head swivel from one to
another as they catch my attention.
The interesting thing is that they are not between
me and My Father; they are positioned behind and
beside me so I have to turn my head away from Him in
order to focus on them. I am left with my body
facing the Lord, but my head turned away.
I have chosen to turn towards these distractions and
give them my attention. The Lord longs for me to
give Him my undivided attention – not least because
He knows how much this will benefit me. (Sally
|When the Lord
dons a disguise
As they talked and
discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came
up and walked along with them – but they were kept from
recognizing Him. (Luke 24:14)
Cleopas and Mary were walking disconsolately back to
Emmaus having witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. Suddenly,
a stranger came and kept them company. After they had poured
out their hurting hearts, He opened up the Scriptures to
them – and their hearts burned within them. There is a
simple reason why they were so slow to recognize their Lord:
Scripture says that He came to them – as He often does to us
– in a different form.(6)
When the Lord dons unexpected disguises, He always has good
reasons for doing so. in the Horse and his Boy, the runaways
Shasta and Aravis are riding separately by night. Suddenly
they hear what sounds like two lions roaring on either side
of them. The lions propel the pair together and the
adventures begin. They discover later that there had only
ever been one line – Aslan himself.(7)
Further on in the story, Aslan takes the form of a cat, in
order to comfort a boy who is obliged to spend a night
amongst haunted ruins. The boy would have been afraid of a
lion, so Aslan adopts a humbler disguise.
It sounds less than impressive to admit it, but it is not
always at all obvious whether something is of God, the devil
or just a mundane muddle. Struggling to confirm an on-line
airline ticket a few months ago, as yet another attempt came
to nothing, I felt like shouting in block capital
hieroglyphics: ‘What’s the point of a web site you can’t
book tickets on?!?’
It was at this rather jaundiced moment that I sensed the
Still Small Voice prompting me to book my ticked one day
earlier than I had been intending. Glancing up, I saw a
shining rainbow outside my window. Minutes later the phone
rang with an invitation to attend an important meeting in
the House of Lords on that earlier day.
There I had been, blaming British Airways and the devil for
the delay, whilst all the time God had been preventing me
from wasting money on a non-refundable ticket, because He
wanted me to be present at that meeting. When I came to book
this revised date, the system worked perfectly.
In times of waiting, we are easily inclined to feel that the
Lord is not doing very much. Like the disciples, we long to
rouse Jesus from His sleep on the cushions of the boat!(8)
When we cannot make sense of a
predicament, try looking away from it for a moment, and
thank Him. The Lord hears our prayers, and wants us to trust
Him – even if He appears to be fast asleep, or nowhere to be
seen. The more we trust, the easier it is for Him to work
His purposes out.
Because there is often a significant time delay between the
Lord’s call and its subsequent outworking, however, there is
always a danger that we will try to fulfill the vision by
our own efforts. The troubles multiply when we take matters
into our own hands. Like Abraham we can make an ‘Ishmael’
even out of genuine promises. At all such times, the guiding
principle to remember is: ‘Do not try to row when the wind
is not filling your sails.’
If you have already jumped the gun in some area, it is never
too late to repent. He hears our cries, reweaves the strands
of our life and helps us to fare better next time round. By
the Lord’s grace, He usually does allow us further changes.
He also knows us well enough to start in plenty of time!
For Reflection and Prayer
Jesus, if You had come before the midnight hour,
All the virgins would have been ready.
It was the long delay which exposed their folly.
In all our times of waiting,
May our faith not fail.
When sharp frustrations come our way,
May impatience not cause us to move ahead of Your
And may fear not cause us to hold back
1 Philippians 1:19-20
2 2 Chronicles 18:7; 17
3 Exodus 33:19
4 Ray Mears The Real Heroes of Telemark
5 Luke 5:17
6 Luke 24:13-32
7 C.S Lewis The Horse and his Boy (Harper