On Discerning God’s Quiet Voice
[Sam.3:3-10, 19; 1Cor.6:13-15, 17-20; Jn.1:35-42]
One day in Milan, St Augustine heard a child sing: ‘Take it and read. Take it and read’. He wondered, was this God talking to me? He opened a Bible and his eyes fell upon these words: ‘…put on the Lord Jesus Christ… spend no more thought on nature’s appetites’ (Rom.13:13-14). In an instant, his heart flooded with light; it was a message from God. His life changed and he went on to become a great theologian, bishop and writer. [i]
Last week I explained how God speaks to us in different ways, including through Scripture, art, music and nature. But how can we be sure it’s God’s voice we hear and not something else?
Here are some basic principles we should remember when we’re discerning God’s quiet voice in our lives.
Firstly, God is spirit, so he doesn’t have a voice like ours. However, he’s also omnipotent, which means he can communicate with us in many ways, including through images, ideas, events, other people and even through our own thoughts. We just need to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open for him.
Secondly, God is always speaking to us. He’s always expressing his love for us, encouraging us and inviting us to come closer to him, for he is love itself (1Jn.4:8). So, any still and prayerful time we spend listening for his quiet voice has the potential to be fruitful.
Thirdly, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the ‘exact representation of God’s nature’ (Heb.1:3). So, if we want to understand how God thinks and what he’s saying to us, then we need to get to know Jesus and his teachings (Jas.4:8). Indeed, the more time we spend with Jesus, the easier it will be to identify his voice (Mt.17:5; Jn.10:27).
Next, God is truth (Jn.1:14) and he’s always consistent (Lk.21:33). So, one good way to check if you’re hearing God’s voice is to see if the message you receive aligns with Scripture and the teachings of the Church. [ii] God will never say anything or ask us to do anything that contradicts his Word (1Jn.4:1).
And finally, St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that God’s voice can be identified by two signs: peace and joy, because God wants us to be happy (Jn.10:10). So, if a message makes you feel anxious, sad or angry, it’s not from God (1Cor.14:33). As St. Francis de Sales once said, ‘No thoughts which cause us disquiet and agitation come from God who is the Prince of Peace. They are, rather, temptations of the enemy, and therefore we must reject them and take no notice of them’.
All through Scripture God calls people to do special things, and every calling is different. Abraham was 75 years old (Gen.22:11-13), but Jeremiah wasn’t even born (Jer.1:5) when God called them. Isaiah was of noble birth (Is.6:8), but Amos was a poor shepherd (Am.7:15). And yet they all became great prophets.
In today’s first reading, Samuel is a boy, and he’s sleeping in the temple at Shiloh. Someone whispers ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ in his ear and he thinks it’s the old priest Eli, but it’s not. It’s God calling. Samuel starts listening and he grows up to become a priest, prophet and judge.
And in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist points Jesus out to Andrew and his friend, saying ‘Behold the Lamb of God’. They follow Jesus and become his first disciples. But note that God doesn’t speak directly to Andrew. He uses John the Baptist to invite them to follow Jesus.
God often does that. He often speaks to us through someone else. But are we listening?
Let’s close with this story from Max Lucado:
Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow you. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen.
And the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak.
And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for the bush, but for the church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled the storm, not of the sea, but of the soul.
And God waited for the man to respond. And he waited…and waited.
But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts; bricks, not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing.
Finally, he looked to God and asked, ‘Have you lost your power?’
And God looked at him and said, ‘Have you lost your hearing?’ [iii]
[i] St Augustine, Confessions. Penguin Books, London, 1961:177-178. http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Augustine_Confessions.pdf
[ii] St. Joan of Arc once said, ‘All I know about Christ and His Church is that they’re the same thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter’.
[iii] Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder. W Publishing Group, Nashville, 1995. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0849911389/chrispsinspirati