I taught a Sunday school class recently that included five elementary students and one high school freshman. The lesson was about Listening to God. Simple enough. Easily explainable. Or, so I thought.
On the surface, I figured teaching something so Duh! basic should be a lesson-plan cakewalk. How could my lesson not be rife with examples about how to tune in to God’s voice so clear that it’s like listening with a headset?
Then reality gobsmacked me. That’s right, gobsmacked.
I couldn’t think of one time when I knew—absolutely and for sure knew—that God had whispered in my ear, let alone spoke to me in a clear voice.
Yet, there had to be times when God had spoken to me. After all, my life and my faith oozed God experiences.
So, why couldn’t I think of one audible God revelation?
Surely, God had spoken to me many times. But I realized the closest I’ve come to hearing a voice from God was not really from God at all. It was when another proxy voice, a human’s words, had spoken to me in a so-called aha moment. A God-surrogate’s words had caused a stirring within me.
Still, time after time throughout my life, hadn’t I recognized the unmistakable still small voice of God?
I’m convinced I couldn’t have gotten from then to now without God’s help and intervention.
For instance, I remembered the perfect timing of my not stepping out from in front of a bus into moving traffic. I didn’t hear God say, Wait. But I do believe God stopped me and saved my life.
I also know I landed in retirement because of inner directing impulses, not because God whispered, Now’s the time. Go for it. No voice. A feeling at best. But the right decision nevertheless.
I know God has influenced me. But had I actually heard the voice of God?
So, what could I tell my students on Sunday morning about listening for God’s voice if I had never actually heard it myself?
For me, hearing God had been no Damascus prompt so clear that I, like Paul, knew exactly what to do. Nor was it so distinct that, like Samuel who had replied, Yes, Lord, I’m here, I was certain I had heard from God.
As I battled toe to toe with myself about whether or not I had ever actually heard God speaking to me, I realized that I don’t have to hear God to hear from God. Because I hear no audible voice doesn’t mean God hasn’t communicated with me.
No, I have had to settle for feelings, impulses, inklings. Even so, they are no less God’s voice than the one either Paul or Samuel heard.
God speaking to us today may often be next to impossible to tune in to, as indistinct as the hum of a refrigerator in a crowded kitchen. But it is no less real.
There is an inner peace that only accompanies truth.
Demanding that God use a human voice is relegating God to life as the dummy on the ventriloquist’s lap. It’s way too prosaic, too limiting to define God by our biological standards.
That’s basically what I told my Sunday school class. I told them not to expect to hear from God as a human voice. Just be ready to feel nudges from the Holy Spirit—another term that falls short of describing how God speaks to us but perhaps works better than the decibel analogy.
I told the kids to pray and expect answers and to give thanks because God exists and does, somehow, give us guidance.
That’s as close as I came to telling my students how to listen for God.
I think it’s as close as any of us can ever come.
After teaching and working as an insurance adjuster and representative, Jim is now retired. I enjoy walking with my dog; sitting on the porch with my wife; visiting our two daughters, son-in-law and grandson; writing; and reading. Jim has self-published two middle-grade fiction books.