I locked the upstairs bathroom door as the happy voices of our visiting kids and grandkids rang out from the kitchen below. Tears outlined the strangely fallen features on the right side of my face as I studied myself in the mirror. Bell's palsy, a paralysis that distorts expressions on one side of the face, was in its second swipe since my teen years—and it had returned with a vengeance. Painful swelling exploded behind my right ear, an exhausting business schedule loomed ahead, and I couldn't speak, smile, or even eat without drooling.
"What are you trying to tell me, Lord? You've got my attention," I sniffed at the red-nosed, pathetic face staring back at me. Wiping away my tears on the sleeve of my robe, I asked him point-blank, "What is it you want me to hear?"
It's taken me years to recognize God's voice: those whispered words of encouragement when I'm down; that sudden sense of caution when I'm ready to launch a testy zinger at someone; those much-needed directions at the street corners of my life; tender words of love when I least deserve them; even humor at odd moments. Why is it so surprising that the Living Word, the Author of Life, wants his children to know his thoughts? I've found God sends us his messages in a variety of ways. Here are four ways to hear his voice.
1. God's life-changing Word. I haven't always heard God speak to me. In fact, there was a time when God seemed silent. Even distant. The busyness of caring for four children and fulfilling church commitments conspired to dull any sense of God's voice. Boredom and its cousins, crabbiness and depression, left my soul to dry rot. I wasn't much fun to live with, and I knew it. Each time I yelled a sharp word, I thought, Steve and the kids will just have to understand. I'm having a bad day today. I hoped God wasn't paying much attention.
Then one morning I awoke with a start. Was one of our kids awake early? No, it was just me. Or was it? I felt compelled to go downstairs without even grabbing a robe. Shivering from the early morning chill, I spread an afghan around me and settled on the couch. There was my Bible, untouched for weeks, beside the couch. Picking it up with a twinge of guilt, I looked for an easy place to open and read something … safe. I chose the book of Proverbs and the day's date, the 29th. The first verse froze me: "A man (or woman) who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy."
Was this for me? Was God telling me something about my lousy attitude? Tears welled quickly, as they often do when God speaks. Who can listen casually to something he says? I cried buckets and poured out honest words for the first time in months, telling God how sorry I was for ignoring him, for not bringing him all my needs, all my hunger. Having gorged myself on self-pity, I'd starved my soul. I begged forgiveness for all the miserable words I'd spoken or even thought. The relief was immediate.
Jesus gained victory over temptation in his wilderness and told us how: "'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4). Without listening to God's voice in his Word, I soon would starve to death, and that death would affect everyone around me. I became hungry again to hear God in every circumstance of life, beginning with the first moments of every day.
Many years later, I still curl up every morning on the couch with a cup of coffee, my favorite afghan, and my Bible. Opening it, I enter his presence quietly, ready to listen. I marvel at the unplumbed depth of God's love, the treasures that wait to be discovered in knowing him.
Life passes remarkably fast. I know God has said many things to me I've missed. I'm listening harder now, more delighted with his voice, just like the prophet Jeremiah, who exclaimed, "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight" (Jeremiah 15:16).
2. God's breathtaking world. Even after more than 20 years of crossing the lake in our 14-foot boat to get to our wilderness camp in the Adirondack mountains, I still say, "Wow! Look at Whiteface today!" whenever the towering mountain comes into view. But I expect it; I'm ready to be amazed before I get into the boat. It's the "wows!" I never expect that leave me breathless, such as the stunning gift of a double rainbow at the ocean shore this past summer, or the nose-to-nose meeting with a hummingbird on my deck—gifts of love along my path. Even his little creatures show me a humorous side of our Creator.
One hot afternoon while on vacation in the Caribbean, my husband, Steve, and I sat at an outdoor café cooling off with a large lemonade. Suddenly a bright green lizard about ten inches tall appeared under an empty table next to us. At first it looked like a cartoon lizard. Then it scared me.
"Steve! Look at that!" I gasped, gripping the table. "Do you think it's dangerous?"
"I don't think so. Just stay still and see what it does," Steve answered in his calm, I-have-everything-under-control voice. That's when the lizard cocked his head and winked at us, as though he knew something we didn't know. And for the next 20 minutes, he engaged our full attention. We photographed him, laughed and talked to him like two kids. Soon a large crowd of onlookers gathered, some belly-down on the pavement, snapping photos. Instantly, the lizard winked good-bye and disappeared up a nearby palm tree.
Just when I think I've got God's world thoroughly appreciated and somewhat discovered, he stuns me with a message from a lizard: You haven't even brushed the surface of my glory yet, Virelle. I have more, far more in this world to show you. Just wait!
3. God's voice through others' mouths. Far more often than the rebuke I deserve, God has used others to speak words of affirmation and encouragement into my life when I least expect it. Imagine my shock when a woman rushed up to me after a speaking engagement to say, "You have such a gentle, quiet spirit!" I felt completely the opposite. Was God telling me he was pleased with my efforts to keep my mouth shut more often until I was sure of what he wanted me to say? Imagine that! I felt as though I'd received a hug from God and that he'd encouraged me to keep listening and trying to obey what I heard.
Others are usually the first to sense our spiritual gifts, the abilities God's given us supernaturally when we first began to place our faith in him. Has more than one person told you what a good teacher you are? God's telling you he's given you the gift of teaching. Are you the first to notice what others need, the significant little things that make their lives easier? Then thank God for the gift of help and encouragement and ask him to show you ways to exercise it. If you're not sure what your gifts are, ask him. God will waste no time sending someone to tell you.
When our pastor wrote me a note in bold handwriting one day, "Virelle, God wired you up to be a speaker. Never doubt that," I believed him. In fact, I taped his note to my wall, and on days when I feel overwhelmed and tired, when nothing I say seems worth listening to, I read that note and thank God for telling my pastor to write it.
4. God's quiet whispers. That morning when I stared into the mirror at my lopsided face, I decided to stay put until I heard God speak. I knew he would, but I wasn't sure how, or when, or through whom. Waiting is what I least like about following God. It's unnatural for someone whose planner is full. Virelle, came a soft whisper to my heart, I was wondering. Will you still praise me with only half a mouth? God's question cut deep through every thread of vanity left in my over-50 frame. Would I be willing to carry God's love to others when I looked strange, drooling and garbling words? Could I be his funny little messenger—just because he sent me?
"Yes, Lord," I said reluctantly, knowing I might be saying "yes" to long-term paralysis.
Then, Virelle, will you remember that I never give you more than I equip you to do? In my office, a mammoth wall calendar filled with daily "must do's" spoke of my doubt that I ever could complete all God seemed to require of me. My face hot with shame, I whispered, "Yes, Lord."
Then, Virelle, will you follow me a little more quietly now?
"Yes, Lord. But just one thing. I can't smile at my family, my children, and my grandchildren." Tears flowed freely at the thought.
Then smile at me, he added gently. I always see your smile, and I think it's beautiful.
Sometimes, when God speaks, he gives us nothing we ask for and everything we need. Just days before leaving on a business trip, my speech returned. About eight weeks later, a tingling sensation began in the corner of my mouth, then gradually liberated the rest of my face in the weeks that followed. Today, a mild paralysis remains as it did from my earlier bout as a teenager.
I'm grateful now for funny things, for the way one side of my mouth curves slightly downward when I'm tired. It tells me I need to rest. And for my one stationery eyebrow. Raising only one looks exotic. These things remind me that when God speaks, it's always best to listen. When he directs, it's best to obey. When he corrects, don't hesitate to change. And when he tells you something wonderful, it's a good idea to believe him.
Virelle Kidder, an author and conference speaker, lives with her husband in New York.
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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