Our Forty Day Adventure
Today is the first day of a 40-day adventure. No, this adventure is not about a mission trip to Haiti or a hike down the Appalachian Trail. This 40-day adventure is a time set aside to discover more about the Lord and to learn, specifically, how to listen when He speaks and how to hear His voice.
That’s right, it’s my desire during this adventure to draw closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been before and to learn to hear His voice. I’m not talking about hearing Him speak to me through His Word, which is wonderful. But I long for something more personal, more intimate. I long to hear Him speak to me like He has others in Scripture, and as He has also done for me several times in the past. In fact, those times of hearing His voice are some of the high points in my spiritual life.
Learning How to Hear His Voice
I know what many of you may be thinking.
“Oh, here we go again. It looks like somebody else wants to move beyond the sufficiency of Scripture. I guess Scripture’s not enough for Steve and now He wants more than God has already provided for him. Maybe he wants an encounter like the one described in The Shack? Or maybe he wants to hear God speak like Sarah Young claims in Jesus Calling or something like that? Doesn’t he know that God only speaks today through His Word?”
No, I don’t know that. In fact, I see many places in Scripture where God speaks to His children in other ways than through the Scriptures. Let me give you a few examples.
The Damascus Road
In Acts 9, we find Jesus verbally speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road. It wasn’t just a command or some proclamation declared from heaven. It was a conversation where both He and Paul spoke to each other. And in this conversation, Jesus did not limit Himself to speaking only through the written Word, which for Paul would have been the Old Testament. Instead, He verbally communicated His personal message and will to Paul. And that personal message could not be found from reading, for example, the Psalms or Isaiah.
Acts 9:4-6 – Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
“Got it,” you say. “But that’s the apostle Paul. He was an apostle and could, therefore, hear God speak to him verbally in ways He doesn’t do today, to anybody, ever. You and I are not apostles. We don’t even have apostles anymore. So how God spoke to Paul back then was just for Paul— and not for us today.”
Really? So how do we explain God speaking, just a few verses later, to a non-apostle named Ananias? He was not an apostle like Paul. He was just a faithful disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus that God had chosen for a specific task. And how was Ananias to know what specific task God had in store for him unless, somehow and in some way, God spoke to him personally?
The Scriptures say God spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10). Yet it was more than a dream or vision, it was actually a conversation. God spoke, and Ananias responded. God gave a command, and Ananias had some questions about God’s command. Then God answered those questions and sent Ananias on his way. Watch the give and take of this conversation.
Acts 9:10-16 – Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias, and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
More Than a Daily Devotion
This conversation did not happen from Ananias reading the Old Testament during his time of daily devotions. This was a verbal communication from God that gave direction, instruction, and explanation to a human being and occurred outside of His written Word. It was personal, meant only for Ananias, and communicated God’s direct will to one of His children. Not to each of us, but only to Ananias.
That’s what I’m striving for over the next 40 days. I want my relationship to be so close to the Lord that when He speaks, I will hear and listen. And I want to know His voice so well, like a child does his mother’s, that I won’t make the mistake of confusing His voice with my own.
Words of Encouragement
But there’s more. In the very next chapter, we find God speaking to Peter regarding a vision he had about whether he should eat ceremonially unclean animals. Again, this is a conversation between Peter and the Lord. It’s not Peter coming to this conclusion by reading Leviticus or Deuteronomy or some other Old Testament text and gleaning principles from them to help him make up his mind. It’s a direct conversation between God and a human being. God gives a command and Peter responds with an objection. Then God gives another command and addresses Peter’s objection. Plus, the text says God had to do this three times. Read it for yourself.
Acts 10:12-16 – In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
Still Not Convinced?
But some may still be unconvinced that God can, and desires, to speak to us personally and directly and not necessarily always through His written Word. After all, He is God and can do whatever He wants (Psalm 115:3). And if it is possible to learn how to hear His voice, it seems that it should be right at the top of our to-do list. But often it’s not. So what do we do?
Often, when we read accounts like the one above with Peter, sometimes we conclude these encounters with God were in a dream state or vision or an early morning stupor and not a direct conversation, from lips to ears, between God and a human being. It’s true that often, in Scripture, God speaks in a dream or through a vision. But that’s not always the case. Consider how Jesus encouraged Paul in Acts 23. This was a personal, intimate, one-on-one message of encouragement that was not revealed through a dream and was meant for Paul alone. In fact, the text says the “Lord stood by him” when He spoke.
Acts 23:11 – But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”
This was not a message Paul received from reading Proverbs or the creation account in Genesis. It was a direct, personal word from the lips of the Lord to Paul. And it shows that sometimes God speaks to us about specific needs that we have outside of, or in addition to, His Word. It doesn’t mean God ever violates His Word or contradicts His Word, but sometimes He speaks to each of us outside of and in cooperation with His Word.
It appears the Lord has more tools in His tool belt than we allow Him to use.
Think about it, you have a decision to make about taking a job offer. Should you stay and accept the offer at Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina, or should you move and accept a competing offer with Capital One in McLean, Virginia? You don’t know what to do so, as a Christian who desires to be in the center of God’s will, you ask God to tell you what offer He wants you to take. Not to give you wisdom so you can make the decision based on salary incentives and benefits, or the relative cost of living in each area, or maybe the availability of affordable housing, and the professional growth potential each position offers— but to tell you specifically what offer He wants you to accept.
How does God do that through the Old or New Testament? How does He communicate His desire directly to you? Is there any verse, or passage, or story that specifically reveals to you the answer God has for you regarding the move?
Probably not. Now there are principles in the Scriptures that may guide you in making the decision. And there may be passages that talk about the wisdom God gives you to help you decide your future. But for those of us who want a deeper intimacy with the Lord, we hunger for more. I want to know exactly, precisely, specifically what God’s will is for my life and I believe I can know that best from His lips alone. How? Through the Scriptures? Absolutely. But also by His direct communication— in whatever manner He chooses to reveal Himself to me.
Because I can’t think of a particular passage in Ezekiel or Amos or 1 Corinthians that will tell me to either stay in Charlotte or move to Virginia. Can you?
To Hear His Voice
My desire during this 40-day adventure is to learn to hear God’s voice on an ongoing basis. Not every once in a while, but daily, hour by hour, much like a loving son longs to hear soothing words from his father. I’ve heard Him speak to me in the past, and these times have become cherished memories. But I’m tired of living on the memories of good times, long past. I hunger for more. And I believe the default position for the Christian is for our Father to speak clearly to us as He has to others in His Word, and for each of us to be able to hear and understand what He is saying.
I believe we should be able to ask Him questions and receive from Him answers, much like the disciples did of Jesus. It was natural for the disciples to ask Jesus a question and expect an answer. Why should we expect otherwise? After all, Jesus gave us “another (állos) Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). And this “another (állos) Helper” is the Holy Spirit, who is just like Jesus.
But that’s something we’ll look at tomorrow.
If you’re so inclined, join with me and let’s discover together what God wants to do during this 40-day adventure with Him. Hop on board. It should be quite a ride.