Hearing God’s Voice Redux

When I was a teenager, I lived in Georgetown, Guyana with my parents who were missionaries. (My father was the Medical Director of Davis Memorial Hospital there, and my mother taught nursing off and on.) During that time I had an opportunity to go visit Kaieteur Falls. In those days one got to the park by flying in an aging DC-3 aircraft that was incredibly noisy We landed perhaps a mile away from the falls (I forget precisely how far–it’s been a couple of years since I was a teen!), the aircraft engines were shut off, but I continued to hear this roaring sound. I thought my ears were just ringing after the long noisy flight, but it turned out to be the sound of the falls in the distance. After some walking I came on a vantage point on the side of the gorge from which I could see the falls. It’s a shear 700 ft drop with additional distance fallen over the rocks. The river comes off of the savannah, and simply falls off a cliff. The sight is awesome. Coming upon it for the first time is a spiritual experience.

I have tried to describe it a bit in the paragraph above, but I haven’t done that well. I have tried to describe it to others, but I can see in their eyes and hear in their voice that I have failed to truly catch the feeling of that first look at this spectacular falls. It is an experience that I treasure for myself, but that I always convey in a way that is substantially less than what I feel in telling it. I would love to return to Guyana and go see the falls again, experience that again. I suspect, however, that I would still fail to convey it to others.

I have that same problem in discussing the study of the Bible. Why do I regularly read the Bible in the morning to start my day? Well, I can tell you that my day goes better when I do–and it does. I can tell you that I believe in such activity as a spritual discipline, and I do. I can make the abstract statement that I hear God’s voice in scripture–and I do. But as many times as I’ve talked about it, even to people who are Bible students, I find that rarely does the other person’s face light up, and their words express an understanding of that feeling of spending time with God in the Bible.

After I had been away from the Lord and the church for 12 years after graduate school, I returned to Bible study. I’d remained acquainted with the scriptures, because I didn’t want to lose my Greek and Hebrew skills. But I had read, though not read the Bible. I went back to study by reading the gospel of Mark. Now I knew what the gospel of Mark said, but as I read it again, I found an excitement, an anxiety for the next chapter. I read the book slowly over the course of Lent. It was like seeing and hearing it all again, but refreshed, as though I had never heard it before. Again, this is an experience that seems to lose incredibly in the telling.

I took a challenge once from my students in a class. I advocate reading a text multiple times for an overview and to fix the whole picture in your mind. They were finding the passage boring on the second or third pass through. I said I would take any passage, read it through multiple times, and tell them when I ceased to get something new out of it. The chosen passage was the Sermon on the Mount, and I read it 38 times in succession over the course of two weeks. There was some new line that I underlined, or some new marginal note on every reading. I think most serious Bible students will not find that at all remarkable. They’ll realize that on pass 38 I was still only scratching the surface. But there are others whose eyes glaze over when I relate that experience, and I know that yet again, I have failed to communicate what I feel.

Then yesterday, I dropped by Adrian’s Blog, and found a link to this article by John Piper. Now those of you who have read this blog for some time will know that I have disagreed substantially with many of Adrian’s posts, and a few times John Piper’s name has come up in a negative light over some of the same issues. But as I read that article, the words jumped out at me, and I knew that the experience Piper was describing is essentially the same is mine, but described so much more effectively. That’s the experience of reading God’s word that I keep trying to describe, yet always fail.

When I linked to the article, I had no idea that there would be the type of controversy that there seems to be over on Adrian’s blog. I wasn’t trying to make theological points or convert those who don’t believe the Bible is inspired. I was certainly not trying to put down anyone who hears God’s voice in other ways (such as on viewing a waterfall or in prayer) or who hear God speak on other subjects. Obviously I cannot in any way speak for John Piper, whose theological positions differ substantially from mine. But I didn’t read any of those negatives into either the article or Adrian’s post.

There are those who should hear a correction in the article. I frequently encounter people who do not have the patience to seriously study the Bible, yet will take any amount of time and effort to get a “personal word from God.” They’ll travel to conferences, stand in line for hours, seek out “prophetic ministry services,” and buy large numbers of books, but they won’t get serious about the Bible. I don’t know why, though some tell me it’s a lack of time. It’s just too hard. I would hope that such people would hear John Piper’s article as a correction. It’s not that they should seek God’s voice in many different ways, but they need to seek it at the core as well.

I can’t tell you how to grab hold of the experience, but I do suggest putting in time with the scriptures, taking the time to let the words sink in, and doing so prayerfully. Pray that your mind will be opened, and your will ready to obey what God will show you. I may not be able to fully convey the experience in words, but I will testify that it’s worth it.

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  1. Because one or both–most likely both–do not always hear correctly.

    But, I would add, the Scriptures never change. Our goal in studying Scripture is to understand the Author’s intent and meaning in what is written, taking into account the entirety of what He has revealed to us in His Word.

    Good post.

  2. Of all the posts I’ve read on Piper’s article this past week, yours helped me the most, esp. the 2nd to last paragraph. I’ve been around people who “hear God” from reading freeway signs, go on cayenne pepper n’ water fasts to ‘purify’ themselves in order to “hear God” better—all the while neglecting the voice of God as revealed in Scripture. I was highly skeptical of Piper’s article in a post I wrote on my own blog, but your post has helped clarify it for me. Thanks.

  3. But, I would add, the Scriptures never change.

    And let me add further that we all absolutely must always be trying to reach the truth. When I say we could be wrong a great deal of the time, I’m admitting my fallibility, not justifying apathy. Truth does matter.

  4. I also found this post helpful. Thanks. I think my biggest beef with Piper’s article was not his love of scripture but his claiming things for it that the BIble doesn’t claim for itself. He reacted to people being thrilled by the voice of God apart from scripture when the BIble is sitting right in front of them. If the BIble doesn’t thrill them, true – there is a problem. But ANYTHING God says, no matter how he chooses to say it, is absolutely amazing. As the PRoverb has it, “Every word of God is flawless.” (PRov. 30:5).

    If you’d like a great basic introduction to hearing God’s voice, feel free to check out my website: http://www.howtoheargodspeaking.com, a Christ centered site dedicated to helping people hear God for themselves. You can download my free article called “How to Hear the Voice of God: Ditching the 7 Deadly Myths That Plug Your SPiritual Ears.” I’m also working on an article right now called “Hearing God Speak THrough Scripture.”

    God bless,
    Brad Huebert

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