Lent 3 (Ps 95; Ex 17:1-7; John 4:5-42)
March 19, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
Noah’s in his rec room, making some things for the home. He’s a very good carpenter:
Vooobah, voobah, voobah. Bing.
(quietly) “Somebody Call?
Vooobah, voobah, voobah. Bing.
“Who is that?
“It’s the LORD; Noah.”
… “Right!” (Bill Cosby, 1965)
Oh, to hear the LORD’s voice. To recognize it. To have a conversation.
Psalm 95 today exclaims: O that today you would listen to his voice! To sing to the LORD, to kneel before our Maker, to be the sheep of God’s pasture, to listen to His voice… It happens when we recognize the speaking of God. Perhaps this Psalm hints at three good steps for people of Faith to learn:
One. Hear the Voice.
Two. Know it is the Voice.
Three. Respond appropriately.
Step Two, recognizing the Voice continues to be a challenge. There are at last Eight ways people are addressed by God in the Biblical record.
One. A supernatural phenomena with a voice. The burning bush Moses meets, Exodus 3. Jesus baptism: heavens open, dove descends, voice.
Two. A supernatural messenger or angel. Angels visit Mary, and Joseph, on separate occasions, Mt 1, Luke 1.
Three. Dreams and visions. Pharaoh’s dreams Joseph interprets, Genesis 41. Paul’s dream of the man from Macedonia, saying, “Come to Macedonia and help us” Acts 16.
Perhaps you have heard the story of Patrick of Ireland. After escape from slavery in Ireland, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” His superiors let him return to Ireland in 432 CE to seek reconciliation and spread his faith. (Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 2010, pp.185-6)
Four. A natural phenomenon. Psalm 19 The heavens are telling the glory of God … Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words… yet their voice goes out through all the earth.
Five. An audible voice. Young Samuel hearing his name called in the night. 1 Samuel 3. Or, is this what Saul heard when he met Jesus one day travelling the road to Damascus? Acts 9.
Six. By the scriptures. Peter preaches to the crowds stirred up by those filled with the Holy Spirit. He quotes the OT, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, & your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…(Ac 2)
Seven. A human voice. The words of someone can be a word from the Lord. We might go back to the stories of Moses, who is assured by God, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” Ex 4. And the prophets of old experienced the force of God’s word that had to come out of their mouths. Jeremiah 20: If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Eight. Human spirit/thought. Our own thoughts and feelings inside – can regularly be the Holy Spirit speaking. Proverbs 20:27. The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD, searching every inmost part. The light of God shines within, at our ‘deepest place.’ Psalm 16 remarks I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
Among these ways the Divine Voice is heard, the most common and usual for us – in friendship with God – could be the most ordinary ways: The Bible. Creation. The voice of other people. And our thoughts within us. In these we detect the ‘still small voice.’
Dallas Willard claims that the still small voice — or the interior voice, as it is also called — is the preferred and most valuable form of individualized communication for God’s purposes. (Hearing God, 1999, p. 89) He also claimed that the more spectacular ways that God speaks go along with the less mature levels of the spiritual life. (Ibid, p. 111)
Quite a few years ago, I was at a point in my life where I needed to know what to do next. I had a decision to make. I was twenty years old. I’d had weeks and months of thinking it over, talking to people about it, and trying to pray into the answer. But when would I know, really know?
Then, it happened suddenly. A single moment when it all felt clear, at last. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a couple sentences from a devotional book I’d been given. When I read this, one evening, suddenly I knew. I knew the answer; I knew my decision.
Many of us have a sort of vision of the kind of person God wants us to be. We must be true to that vision, whatever it is, and we must try to live up to it, by living the way we believe we should live. …In all people there is the good person which God sees in us, the person we could be and that God would like us to be. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, 1975, Dec. 2)
It seemed so clear that, in the moment, my Saviour spoke to me. How do we recognize this? We can see three factors in the Voice of the Master.
One. The Tone. God speaking has a certain weight of authority about it. When Jesus taught along the way, people remarked at how he taught with an authority that was greater than the usual religion teachers of the day. So to with the quiet, contemporary voice of the Spirit to us. When certain Bible verse stand out to us, or something strikes us in words someone speaks, or a thought comes to us from within – a tone of authority in it can signify the Holy Source. Other ideas of our own, or words we hear that catch our attention, will not be so clear and strong.
- Stanley Jones said, Perhaps the rough distinction is this: The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it. (Jones, A Song of Ascents, 1979, p. 190.)
So choosing the right way is not like the cartoon of the devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other, both trying to sway us. The voice of a true angel will simply be clear, not so much trying to sway, as simply stating the truth.
We heard an old scripture story from Exodus 17. We notice, perhaps, the strong frustration, and desperation, of the people, now traversing a wilderness they did not know. The people quarrelled with their leader, Moses. They complained. They were demanding. Moses almost sounds testy, “Why do you quarrel with me?” On their behalf, Moses goes to YHWH God with his own desperation: “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
Then note Yhwh’s calm response. The instructions sound clear, and unaffected by the hotheadedness of the people. At this moment, at least, there is a quality of clarity and straightforwardness. ‘Go there, take them, use this, do that. I will be there,’ says God. And water comes from the rock.
The Voice of God has a tone of authority to it.
Two. The Spirit of the voice, as Dallas Willard calls it. God speaking has a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. (Willard, Hearing God, p. 177) Again, it is as Jesus was, as Jesus is. The voice is in accord with His demeanor.
What we call the story of the woman at the well, in John 4, continues to impress me. Dick and Evelyn helped us hear it today. It records a series of events that might have many lessons for us in it. I keep on noticing how the woman, here in Samaria, reacts. Especially when she goes back to town, there among her own people.
The woman is impressed. Something about Jesus made a very positive impression on her. About this Jewish traveller, she keeps saying, “He told me everything I have ever done. Might he be the Christ?” We notice she has some definite life experience – five husbands in the past, and now she has a man she’s not married to.
There must have been something in how Jesus spoke with her that made this good news. He knew her story. He told her so. But she is excited about Jesus. She suspects He is the long-awaited Messiah. He sure did not come across as her judge and accuser, or as holier-than-thou.
She is so enthusiastic that her fellow Samaritans invite this Jewish teacher to say a while. And many of them get convinced He is the Christ. The spirit in which Jesus spoke was so convincing, so open, so good.
So, much of what we hear, in the still-small-voice will also be like this. The message will have the Spirit of Jesus about it. There is a certain grace in it.
The book of James, with it’s strong warnings about how to speak, and the dangers of the human tongue, tells us this: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (3:17). If only our own voices could always be like the wise voice of God with us.
Three. The Content. What is said; the message, the meaning. Does it make sense that it’s from Christ?
I shall always remember the anecdote my OT professor told, from his days as a young pastor in the midwest of the United States. He had a fellow in his church who got convinced of weird things, occasionally. Like the time the man claimed the Bible was telling him to put cream cheese in his wife’s hair.
That might not be harmful at all, but not useful either. I got the impression from my prof that this just did not seem to him like a bit of guidance from God.
When an idea, an impression, a message comes along that might be of God, does it seem to be the sort of thing God would say to us? That is the question. Naturally, the scriptures play a big part in this. Charles Stanley wrote: “God’s voice will never tell us to engage in any activity or relationship that is inconsistent with the Holy Scriptures.” (How to Listen to God, 1985, p. 51) What we know of God in holy history help us us know if a message is divine or not.
Though it is not all so simple, of course. I believe our Bible is as big a book as it is because any one small piece of it is not always enough. All together, it is the complete word of God – one verse here or there – even one whole book – can lead us astray. So we read one chapter of the Bible in light of all the others.
When we wonder – ah, is that You speaking to me, Jesus? – then we bring our whole impression of Him from scripture to bear. Does Jesus say the sort of thing we think He is saying to us us now, in the moment?
As I look back on Christians in history, over the past few hundred years, I am often impressed by how humble they were, and what a large sense they had of sin in their own lives. They seemed to feel so unworthy in the face of a Holy God. But along with this they shared a deep amazement and gratitude in the face of Christ’s great love and acceptance.
Here is an example from the writings of John Bunyan, an early Baptist preacher and famous author. He still felt the weight of his failures from time to time. He said:
One day, as I was traveling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came to my mind: “ Having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20). By which I was made to see, both again and again, that God and my soul were friends by his blood; yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other, through his blood. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall never forget it. (Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, p. 46)
The holy purity of almighty God, and the supreme kindness God shows us are but two big aspects of this One we seek to hear. When we suspect the Spirit is speaking to our spirits, what is said will match up with what we’d expect from the kind of God we know. God’s voice says only the kinds of things God would say.
Thanks be to God for that tone of authority, that Spirit of Jesus, and that clear content that makes divine messages recognizable. The sheep get to know the Shepherd’s voice.