The world is full of voices trying to get our attention. How can we distinguish God’s voice from all the others? Jesus tells us in John 10, “The shepherd of the sheep calls his own sheep by name and leads them out–his sheep follow him because they know his voice–I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
It is a remarkable fact that sheep and other domesticated animals can unerringly separate the voice of their master from all other voices. Human beings, however, are a different story. In Isaiah 1, God says, “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
Humanity makes the giant assumption that our collective intelligence allows us to see reality. We “know” all kinds of things, and we are convinced that if someone as big as God were to show up, we would recognize him. But the historical truth of the matter is that when God did show up, the best and brightest among us completely missed it. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).
The people in Jesus’s day did not receive his words as God’s words because they did not recognize his voice as God’s voice. And you and I are no better. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, that day after day they pour forth speech, yet how many of us sit around wondering if God will ever speak to us!
If God is constantly speaking to us and we can’t hear him, what’s the problem? Perhaps part of the answer is that we just don’t recognize his voice; we can’t separate his from the bazillion other voices we hear.
God, who knows us, has made provision for this. He has given us three tools that can help us separate his voice from all others: our circumstances, his Word, and the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.
When these three are in alignment we will be moving in the right direction, but when any one of them is used without the other two, they can lead to confusion and real harm. Why? Because God has made these three tools to be interdependent. It is impossible to know what one is saying without knowing what the others are saying.
Consider life circumstances as an example. Many of us believe that simply by looking at what is coming into our life we can hear God’s voice. We talk about fleeces. We talk about God opening and closing doors. “If I am offered this higher paying job, that means God is saying I should take it.”
Really? Who says we are qualified to determine God’s will simply by considering what is happening in our lives? Is it possible we’re just using our cleverness to control outcomes and have things the way we want them?
Personally, I’m kinda excited about it all… I just got a letter from a credit card company that says they will give me their platinum card at 0% interest until Christmas 2016. Think about all the money I’ll save in interest! And God does want us to be good stewards, doesn’t he? I’ll bet he was behind me getting the offer in the first place. Yes, the envelope did say “Current Resident,” but God knew that was me! Getting this card must be his will for me.
How can I really know anything simply by examining circumstances? Does God open doors via circumstances? Of course. But Satan also opens doors. Circumstances can tell us a lot, but not nearly enough to trust independently of God’s Word and the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Next week: how to recognize God’s voice.