I’ve been pondering lately how I / we hear from God, how we seek guidance and wait for her response. I’ve been reviewing previous times when I feel that I did ‘hear’ or understand something being communicated clearly. For hearing or seeing is the only the first part of the mystery – just as complex is interpreting or understanding what was said. Is it for now, do I have to do anything in response to it etc?
When we we say ‘hear’ from God, we in fact may more likely be speaking about the ‘still small voice’ like a whisper inside us that echoes through our soul, that doesn’t let go of us while we question and doubt it and wonder if it was indigestion. However, occasionally we may hear of someone who heard an audible voice external to them – I once heard a single line spoken aloud in the street and I jumped around to see who had spoken. There was no-one there, the street was totally empty, and I was left with the conclusion that the message was for me. The words did come into being several years later exactly as I had heard.
(When pondering this I came across Martin Saunders on similar topic here: https://www.christiantoday.com/amp/why-doesnt-god-speak-to-me/123684.htm?__twitter_impression=true )
So I do believe God speaks audibly and internally within our soul on rare occasions. But what about on billboards, the sides of buses, through a song that randomly comes on the radio? What about something a stranger says to us in the bus queue? What about in dreams where the desires of our heart are brought to life, or the deepest fears we harbour are revealed to us? These things more likely reveal to us the secrets of our innermost life – I would probably interpret these as God-in-us, showing us who we have been made to be so we can become more fully aware of and aligned with that.
For example, once at a teaching session on leadership at theology school, we were asked to make space and listen to our heart to understand what matters to us, drives and motivates us, what our leadership journey was about. After some while, I had a very clear picture of the huge pile of mattresses in the fairytale The Princess and the Pea. I saw myself reach under the pile of bedding and draw out the pea, and on it was the word ‘teacher.’ I cried my head off, as I hadn’t acknowledged till that moment that being a teacher was the most important thing to me; it has always felt like what I was wired for. At the time I didn’t teach at all, but since then I have had lots of opportunities to do so and have actively tried to develop my skills in that area.
In the Bible, we see so many stories of people who hear from God very directly and openly, even in front of other people so there can be no doubt. Many people seem to receive direct and clear instructions from God, such as the prophets – Jonah, Elijah, Moses and of course the virgin Mary, to name a few. There are less in the NT, mainly because Jesus is embodying the communication of God to man in his being and his life. But there are many others who are following hunches or having to interpret messages and live them out, getting it wrong along the way. In the absence of many direct visitations from the angel of the Lord, we have to look out for snatches and clues in the world around us and in our internal life and do our best to interpret them in the light of the framework given to us in the Gospel – that God through Christ is reconciling all things to himself. By the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are a part of what is being reconciled, and a part of the reconciliation team and agenda for all things:
Colossians 1: 15-23 The Preeminence of Christ
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For byf him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creationg under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
There are two books I use often to help me look for clues and interpret them – Parker Palmer Let your Life Speak, and Julia Mourant Listening To your Life. Both have proved helpful in understanding that God is already at work in me and if I listen carefully and get to know and trust myself, I will begin to discern in my guts what to do. (This has been a good discipline as I wasn’t raised in a church background that taught me to have a positive view of myself and my own instincts, but majored on how untrustworthy and evil our desires all were. Doh!)
Listening is also a big deal for pioneers, as often we don’t have many received assumptions and frameworks to rely upon in our work. We are often sleuthing and trying to interpret snatches of information. I am in a phase right now of trying to listen intently to God about my future. I saw a campervan at the weekend which had the word Pioneer along the side of it and my heart leapt in a weird way. Mm, maybe that means I am going to be mobile in the future? Maybe less tied to one place and way of doing things…… ?!? I also had a word from the Gospel of John 11:40 a few weeks ago – “Jesus said to her,Did I not say to you that if you would believe, you should see the glory of God?” It came out of the mouth of a speaker and floated towards me and entered, like a ball of light out of Ron Weasley’s deluminator. Only time will tell what these clues and whispers mean, if anything. Time + prayer + perseverence over time = clarity in these cases I guess.
Perhaps the main thing in listening for guidance is to know that God knows us and loves us, is journeying in us and alongside us, and wants us to be listening and staying close. Maybe everything else is just backdrop, staging and props for the love story that is playing out all around us and in which we are invited to participate and bring friends.