When the prophet Elijah was running from King Ahab he hid in a cave until he heard the word of God, described as a still small voice. I have heard sermons on this passage several times with the conclusion being that this is how we are to know what God is saying. In a world of chaos, He speaks to us in a quiet manner so we must be still and listen.
Sorry, but I’m disagreeing with this one. I don’t think that that conclusion fits in with the New Testament way and it is not consistent with my experience.
The first time I met God I was twelve and He almost knocked me out of my chair by His presence. I cried uncontrollably at the joy and terror of the encounter; he was as real and tangible as my own body. Without hearing audible sentences, I was convicted of my sin, was told that the gospel was true and that Jesus was the doorway from my current state into an irrevocable relationship of salvation.
And that hasn’t been the only time. On a few other occasions I have had similar, dynamic experiences in which I was so overcome by the presence of God that, like Job, I could do nothing more than put my hand over my mouth.
Remember this one: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
These rare occurrences are really sweet but aren’t the primary way that disciples get direction from God. More so than speaking from the outside to our mind, like the still small voice, or even the metaphysically enigmatic episodes that I described, God speaks to us from the inside via the Holy Spirit. It is the voice of Jesus that we hear and we recognize that voice the same way that we could pick out our mother’s voice from across a noisy and crowded room. It isn’t louder, it isn’t quieter, but it is unique to him. But, the key here is that the voice of Jesus, whether spoken explosively or through our internal Holy Spirit, is only recognizable when we really, really want to hear it.
Main Point: Jesus wants us to love him and obey his commands. Our flesh, though, wants to love itself and obey its own commands. So, yes, if you are passionate about the things of this earth then the word of God will be difficult to discern. You will almost certainly miss it. But if you are passionate about the agenda of God then you will have your spiritual ears properly attuned and will clearly know the voice of Jesus through the other noises of earth. You can’t miss Jesus when you are honestly and humbly looking for him.
So what: The stuff that Jesus tells us to do is often hard and dangerous so our inability to hear Jesus is driven by fear—we don’t hear because we don’t really want to know what he has to say. Has that ever happened to you, or has that temptation been presented to you?