When was the last time you heard from God?
You know what I mean: that still small voice in your heart, maybe in prayer, maybe during Bible reading. God speaking to you. God addressing you. God. Talking. To you.
Okay, stop. If you’ve been in Christian circles for a long time, this is the point where you expect me to tell you about listening for God’s voice, the importance of “quiet” time, stillness, turning off the TV, joining a monastery, etc. (I’m joking about the monastery part.) But I’m not going to. Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a young, single pastoral intern. His name was….well, me. When I was an even more novice pastor than I am now, I often went on retreats and prayer walks, fasting and praying and seeking God. I sometimes had genuine spiritual experiences and I had a genuine hunger for God. But something happened. My seeking after God became desperate – not a healthy desperate, but a “what’s-wrong-with-me-I’m-not-hearing-from-God” kind of desperate. I remember leaving one retreat feeling depressed and wondering, “What did I do wrong?” Discouragement and frustration bounced around in my soul. Why wasn’t I hearing from God?
Something was wrong, but it wasn’t what I thought it was. In hindsight, here was my problem: I was “listening” to God as though he hadn’t already spoken. I was pursuing God as though I had to run him down and tackle him with my fasting and prayers. But God has spoken. As songwriter Michael Card puts it eloquently, “He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son / His final Word was Jesus, he needed no other one.” Or as the writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Does this mean we stop fasting, stop praying, or stop seeking God and asking to hear from him? No, certainly not. Those are good, biblical things. But we don’t “find” God through them. (Where would you even start looking to “find” God?) We seek God through the spiritual disciplines as those who have already been found by him. We listen to God because we know that, through the Word of God who is also the Son of God, we too have become adopted and beloved children (see John 1:12-14).
These days when I take a retreat I sometimes fast – but just as often I’ll eat a big dinner that tastes good and thank God for it. I take prayer walks – but sometimes I walk with no agenda except enjoying creation and thanking the Lord for what I see. I do these things as reminders that, despite the importance of earnestness in fasting and prayer, God sought and found me before I ever thought to look for him.
So let us pursue God and listen for God, yes – but let us never act as though our pursuit is necessary to force God to do something he doesn’t want to do. The most glorious word he will ever speak to us has already been spoken, Jesus, who is the Word of God. In him we hear God’s voice, filled with delight and rejoicing, saying, “You’re forgiven. Accepted. Adopted. My beloved child.”
Listen. Can you hear him?
+Photo by Marc Falardeau