Q: I have a friend who always tells me God "speaks to her." I've been a Christian a long time and never literally hear God's voice. Is something wrong with me?
A: My friend Rita is a classic example of a woman who adores Jesus and speaks passionately about him. Her language is sprinkled with such informal, intimate phraseology about the Lord that you'd assume they'd just shared a mocha at Starbucks! And while my semantics are a tad less experientialI'm more likely to say "When I was praying, God impressed me to " than "God said to me"Rita and I are both expressing delight in the truth that our Redeemer actually condescends to communicate with us.
Frankly, I think wordsespecially religious terminologycan get believers into a lot of trouble. Christians who subscribe to conventional charismatic or Pentecostal doctrine are prone to use expressions like "God told me" or "God gave me a vision" more freely than Christians associated with ecclesiastical or typically conservative denominations. Sometimes earnest, well-intentioned semantics create wedgeseven woundsin the body of Christ. If only we'd get to know the heart of the person who talks differently than we do.
What does God say about this?
Regardless of the words we use to wrap around that which we sense is sacred, the New Testament explains that anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ is given access to God. God doesn't limit his conversations to an elite crowd.
We don't have to worry about whether we're "spiritual" enough to recognize God's voice, because "My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27, The Message).
Nor do we have to tune into God through some self-proclaimed prophet or church liaison, because "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, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV).
Thankfully, God's messages aren't purely instructive, like the computerized comments on a new car navigational system; his missives are full of compassion, encouragement, and comfort: "So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.' For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children" (Romans 8:15-16, NLT).
The Old Testament describes God speaking to his people through phenomena (remember Moses and the flaming topiary in Exodus 3:4?), through angelic emissaries (remember the mysterious guy who informed Samson's previously infertile mama she was going to start craving pickles and ice cream in Judges 13?), and through an audible voice (remember how God gave Gideonhis often wimpy warriorvery specific directions in Judges 6-7?). The great news of the gospel is that he now communicates directly with anyone who seeks him through his Spirit.
How does this affect me?
Some of us have friends or acquaintances who claim to hear God's audible voice. And most of us rub shoulders with Christians who describe their divine tête-à-têtes with colorful adjectives. But there is no exclusive group of Mensa-like believers with whom Jehovah chats more freely and frequently. Whoever seeks God will find himjust not necessarily through a booming bass voice. That's his gracious promise to us. We'll hear his voice when we pray or when we steep ourselves in his Word. We'll hear him in the counsel of mature Christian friends. When we intentionally ignore the static of our all-too-busy life to focus on the Lover of our soul, we can experience the miracle of communing with our Creator.
Lisa Harper has a Masters in Theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. She's a sought-after speaker and has written several books, including Holding Out for a Hero: A New Spin on Hebrews (Tyndale) and What the Bible Is All About for Women: A Book of Devotions (Regal). Visit her at www.lisaharper.net.
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