How do we hear God speaking to us today? And if we do hear a voice speaking, how do we know it is God? And…what do we make of what we hear? These are not easy questions at all. The Bible has many, many different examples of how people heard God’s voice: In silence or small whisper (depending on the translation) in 1 Kings 19:22, in argument (Isaiah 1:18), through an angel (Luke 1:11 & 26), and as a voice from heaven (Luke 3:22). What seems to be consistent is the testimony that God does indeed speak and that this speaking is meaningful. God’s voice invites the listener to be changed in some way, to be transformed, and to act.
Think about Moses for example. In Exodus 3, we see Moses doing a routine task, tending to his father-in-law’s flock, when he sees a burning bush. As he gets closer, God calls to him. God uses the burning bush to capture Moses’ attention and having done so, God delivers the message, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (vs. 10).
Many in the church today have lost confidence in their ability to hear God’s voice. Perhaps it is that we are untrained – we do not know how to discern among the many voices we might hear. We are distracted by the things that are happening around us; the news, Facebook, advertisement messages, work, and so much more. We are often distracted or busy to the degree that we miss the burning bush moments in our lives. For example, many in our culture hold the word “busy” as a badge of honour. If we are not busy, it feels somehow like we are failing or getting left behind in this fast-paced world. Many of us live lives so busy that we do not have time to listen and pay attention to what is happening around us, much less, process those things – including God’s voice that seeks to break into our lives.
Contrast this with Moses’ experience. It wasn’t until Moses was in the wilderness that he met god. The wilderness is always a Biblical metaphor for where one might meet God. The wilderness (or desert) is the place where we are stripped own, emptied not only of the busyness of our lives, but also emptied of our egos. It is the place of solitude and silence. It is where we open ourselves to hear God’s voice. Our modern version of the wilderness can be many things – contemplative prayer, silent walks with God, retreats into nature… And of this we can be sure: When we hear God’s voice, we will often be surprised. While there are times when God’s voice brings us comfort, there are just as often times – like in the case of Moses – where God’s voice brings direction, a sense of calling to do something different and new.
Learning to pay attention and knowing what to pay attention to are key disciplines for us in our search for God. All of us have burning bush moments – the seemingly ordinary on fire with divine activity – that alert us to the possibility that God is at work. If encountering God is anything, it is our capacity to recognize the burning bushes in our lives, having the wisdom to turn aside, take off our shoes and pay attention to God’s leading.