Reading as Conversation: Learning to Hear the Voice of God Today (Pt. 1)

If you believe in God, then you have asked yourself some variation of this question: How can I know what God wants for or from me?

Another way the question has been asked is, “Is it possible for me to hear God’s voice today?” The implication being that God no longer speaks with people like he seemingly did in the Bible. I think the short answer to the question is this, God does speak today. One of the issues we have when reading the Bible is that we lose the sense of time. The Bible was written over a period of 1,500 years. God was not talking every day. This is one of the misconceptions we have to get rid of if we are going to hear from God in our own lives. God’s use of audible declarations were rare occurrences. The problem is not whether God speaks, it’s figuring out if we are tuning into the right station. Some of the assumptions we have about how God communicates have to change if we are going to gain clarity in discerning his presence and will for our lives.

Two Pivotal Events in 2010

Since January 2010 I have changed the way I think about hearing from God because of several events that took place. The first was a weekend retreat that radically affected my understanding of God’s presence. The second event was meeting a man who invited me into a discipleship relationship that challenged many of the assumptions I held about what it means to be a Christian.

The weekend retreat was powerful and memorable. It was a time unlike any I had ever experienced prior to that weekend or since. As I have looked back on what happened, I think the simplest way of describing it is I just let God be God. I know it can sound cliché, but the truth of the matter is that many times we do not let God do his thing. We keep trying to help him with his job. This is a terrible mistake. The biggest lesson I took away from that weekend was that God does not need my help, even though he invites me and allows me to take part in what he has planned. My role is not necessary to achieving the ends God has in mind. In many ways, our role is that of witness. We see what God is doing and we experience what happens so that others cannot say, “No, that’s not what happened. You’re just making that up.” Our presence is God’s way of verifying and validating his activity. Not because it did not happen, but because others need someone to confirm what was described.

The man I met, has since become a good friend. He helped me to understand that what God desires from us is a relationship. God wants to have fellowship with us. He is interested in us getting to know him. Before my time journeying with my friend, I did not have any real or intimate sense of this relationship. Sure, I knew that this is what we were supposed to believe, but I could not honestly say that I was living this out in my life. God always felt distant, detached. There was something so mysterious about him it was difficult to think of God as being close. It was in those months of intentional discipleship that I began to see that God was not only closer than I knew, but he wanted me to want him to be closer too.

The Bible is the Game-Changer

Why do I share these two events with you? I share them because if you are going to understand what I am going to say about hearing God’s voice you have to know the context in which I learned it.

At the center of our discipleship time, we spent time reading the Bible. As novel an idea as it may be, the Bible is the only vehicle that God created for us to get to know him. There are glimpses and pictures of God everywhere, of that I have no doubt. What we have to be careful of though is leaving the security of the scriptures and indulging in fanciful notions of God that are based more on my feelings than his revelation.

The Bible and what it contains serves as the boundary to what is and is not of God. This protects us from wandering to far from what God wants for us to know. And, the Bible keeps us from wondering about things that are not a part of God’s plan.

There are several important ideas we have to understand about the Bible. I will list them here for you to contemplate and consider. As you read them, ask yourself this simple question: “Do I believe this to be true?”

  1. The Bible was written by God.
  2. The Bible’s author is not dead.
  3. The Bible is designed to point to who God is and not just tell me what to do.
  4. The Bible reveals God’s character.
  5. The Bible defines what sin is.
  6. The Bible proclaims the good news that Jesus has reconciled sinners to a holy God.

There are more realities we could write, however, these capture, I believe, the heart of what we need to know to prepare ourselves to hear from God. If we do not agree with these statements we do not have a basis upon which we can expect to hear from God.

The bottom line is that if we want to hear from God, we have to settle once and for all what we believe about the Bible. If we do not interact with God’s word as a precious and priced gift from the Creator, we will never really have any confidence in what we believe God is saying. God’s word is the linchpin that holds our trust in God’s voice in place. To go outside the Bible, to expect new revelations is to show no confidence in what God has codified in the scriptures.

I heard someone say that the canon of scripture is not just closed, it is complete. What this means to me is that God is not going to be adding anything to the Bible, but when he speaks he will stay true and consistent to what he has said in the Bible. What this does is it gives us the courage we need today to search the scriptures and then do what we hear God telling us through it.

What I have come to realize is that the greater my confidence in what he Bible says the greater my willingness to trust and apply what I read.

In the second part we will look at four principles for reading the Bible that will change how we engage God’s word. When we see God’s word as God’s part of a conversation we are having, the Bible will open up to you in ways you never imagined.

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