Hearing God

Tania Harris - cream - author preferred - large jpgI am delighted that Tania Harris has agreed to guest blog on my site. A pastor, speaker and author she is also the founder of God Conversations, a global ministry that equips people to recognise and respond to God’s voice. She has recently released a book that is also called God ConversationsTania is an ordained minister with the Australian Christian Churches and Hillsong is her church home in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

Waiting for God to speak out loud? Think again…

I’ve always wanted to hear the audible voice of God. I imagined it booming forth, sending tremors through my body and swallowing me up in a mystical cloud, leaving me with no doubt where it came from. In fact, when I first started learning to hear God’s voice, this is what I expected. But sadly the booming voice never came. Yes, I’ve heard the voice of God many times, but it has never come out loud.

Perhaps you’ve had the same expectation – and perhaps the same outcome. Part of the reason we expect God to speak out loud is due to the assumptions we make when reading the Bible. We read; ‘And God said…’ and we liken it to a friend talking with us across the table. But a closer look at Scripture reveals this to be a misplaced understanding. Hearing God’s voice should be understood more as a spiritual experience than a physical one.

 A spiritual voice

When Jesus preached his sermons, he often closed with the line; ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear’ (eg. Mark 4:9,23, Luke 8:8). The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to differentiate between those who had open hearts and those who didn’t. This shows us that hearing God’s message wasn’t primarily a physical experience – after all, His audiences heard His words, yet many still wandered away. As Jesus said, ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’ (Matthew 13:13, see also Ezekiel 12:2). Unlike these, we are exhorted to see with the ‘eyes of our hearts’ (Ephesians 1:18) – the emphasis is on our spiritual eyes and ears, not our natural ones.

This was probably one of the more surprising discoveries for me in my early days of hearing God’s voice. One of the first times I heard Him speak was while walking through a park near my home. In the middle of a song, the words: ‘Give all your money away’ came into my head. Though it came as a thought just like any thought, I knew the thought wasn’t mine (largely because it wasn’t something I would say!) The voice was quiet and gentle yet firm; instinctively I knew it was God. It was also consistent with what God had been doing in my life and later when I heeded it, brought about incredible miracles.

The audible voice

While I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, a number of those I interviewed recently for my doctoral research say they have. For most of them, the audible voice came at an urgent moment (like when they were about to walk into the path of an oncoming car) or at some other pivotal time of their lives. Yet even on those occasions, God’s voice was not experienced through the ‘outer ear’. When asked if someone else would have heard it if they’d been with them, the vast majority said no. While the voice had been strikingly loud to the person, it had still been heard from ‘inside’ of themselves.

Though it’s hard to know for sure, the Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus seems to have been similar (if only we could interview him!) Luke, the writer of Acts, reports the story of how Jesus appeared to Saul and speaks to him in a vision (Acts 9:1–7). While there were others with Paul, Luke says they didn’t share the experience, since, ‘they heard the sound’, but ‘they did not see anyone’. Later when Paul recounts the scene for himself, he says his companions ‘saw the light’, but didn’t ‘understand the voice’ (Acts 22:9). Even a powerful experience such as Paul’s conversion seems to be a largely subjective one, only fully received by the audience it was intended.

 The mind as spiritual receiver

Theologian Gregory Boyd writes about the nature of God’s voice in his book, Seeing is Believing. He suggests that the experience of hearing God takes place primarily in the mind or the imagination, and that this is consistent with what Scriptures describes. For example, when Daniel recounts his visions, he notes them as ‘visions that passed through’ his mind (Daniel 7:1,15). They are subjective and internal experiences that no one else can participate in. Hence those who were with Daniel didn’t see his visions (Daniel 10:7). It is also significant that the Hebrew words commonly used for ‘vision’ indicate a unique kind of seeing, something that is distinct from ordinary physical seeing.

It’s important to understand that the experience of hearing God’s voice internally in no way denies its authenticity. Boyd highlights the fact that while modern Western people identify the imagination with make-believe, ancient people and particularly those in biblical times did not. In fact, hearing God’s voice in our minds should not be surprising given that while the Holy Spirit cannot be seen in physical form, we know He abides with us wherever we go (Acts 2:16,17).

On a practical level, this understanding of God’s voice is essential. If we are waiting for an external objective voice, we may be missing out on the still small voice of Elijah’s experience (1 Kings 19:9–13). Instead of waiting for an audible voice, we need to be inviting the Spirit to enter our thinking and our imagination, to inspire our hearts and stir our thoughts, so that we can be like the people Jesus exhorted us to be; having ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.

9781780781884To read more of Tania’s journey with hearing God’s voice and the impact it has had on her own life, I would heartily recommend her book God Conversations. Do also check out her website

 

Taking a break

It seems a little ironic that I’m talking about taking a break from posting here. My blog entries have been sporadic at best over the last year. I’ve found juggling my increasing workload alongside my son (who has only been in nursery a few hours each morning) rather difficult at times, and it has meant that anything other than the bare essentials has had to take a back seat. But I’m hoping to get back to regular posts from September/October time, when I will also have more time to expand my work and church commitments further.

I’ve got mixed feelings as we approach the autumn. I’ve spent many moments looking forward to it, feeling it will ease a lot of my stress. But I am sure that the new season will bring stresses of its own. And it is also beginning to dawn on me that I will no longer have pre-school age children. While I may be relieved in some senses (I had a reminder this Sunday of what it is like to juggle church and a baby as I was looking after a friend’s baby during the service), I also have a little pang of how quickly they grow up (I NEVER thought I’d be one to say that!) I have been very intentional about not taking on much work for the summer, as I want to enjoy focusing on my kids for this, the last summer before my youngest starts full-time school. If I’m honest, so far it has been a bit of a struggle. The kids are very emotional, and my son seems incapable of playing on his own with his toys for longer than two minutes (so there is a constant ‘what can I do’ going on in the background). But we will be taking them abroad for the first time soon and I am hoping (and praying vehemently!) that getting away from it all, and having a break abroad, will be great for us all. As a couple that is so busy with church activities we need this time to hide away and focus on our family before the next term’s changes. Not only is our son starting full-time school, but we will have a building project to plan and undertake as our offer has finally been accepted on the building our church has been trying to purchase for two years! With only my husband working full time for the church it is obvious that the coming months are going to be intense, to put it lightly.

I think what we need most of all in this time away is rest. Fun and rest without distraction and pressing needs. Rest that allows us time to draw near to God to hear his voice directing our paths in the coming days. There are so many big decisions coming up we need to hide away and hear him as all wisdom and knowledge is found in him. That’s what I’m hoping for most during this break time. As well as enjoying time with my family – that part certainly won’t be quiet! 😉