To my ears, they all sound alike. But each emperor penguin recognizes the voice of its mate over the hundreds of other voices, all crying out together.
It gives me hope. In the midst of the racket of voices in my own head and in the world around me, surely the God who tunes the ears of birds can train mine to respond only to His voice.
He promises it repeatedly:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“. . . They will never follow a stranger, in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice. . . .” (John 10:1-11)
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way. Walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)
If only it were so clear as an audible voice!
This week, as the simple question of which course(s) to take in the fall has mushroomed into a host of deeper questions, I’ve been aware of the thousands of other voices which so easily drown out His. Voices that I’ve become used to over the years, insisting that my worth comes from productivity. That “the greatest of these” is not love, but knowledge and efficiency.
Written in black and white, their deception seems obvious. But they seldom present themselves so clearly. They sneak in, the choice rarely between good and bad; rather, between good and best.
It’s here, in this racket of voices that I revisit the question. What does God’s voice sound like? I learn to recognize His voice in quiet conversation with Him. I practice carefully distinguishing His voice from others in the midst of clamor.
He never condemns.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) He corrects and disciplines to bring me deeper into life (Hebrews 12, 1 Corinthians 7). But He does not accuse or condemn. He points out the sin, calls me back to Himself, makes me kneel in wonder that love remains for one who fails so often. But He never shames me, never makes me feel like trash.
I often get caught here. I’ve become so used to hearing the voices of accusation and condemnation in my head that I’ve often unthinkingly assumed they’re God’s voice, urging me on to perfection. But Scripture is clear. It is Satan, not God, who accuses us night and day (Rev 12:10). When we are in Christ, no condemnation remains.
He always speaks freedom and life.
"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Jesus' voice always calls me deeper into the rich, full life for which we would all long if we only dared to lift our heads to glimpse the light and begin to hope.
"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (C.S. Lewis)
Sometimes I can sense the direction toward hope and life. But I'm so acclimatized to the slum that, in the midst of the decision, there are times I still can't tell the mudpies from the sandy beach. That's when I'm especially grateful that Jesus doesn't leave me to figure out the way myself. His voice comes again, "I am the way. . ." (John 14:6). Somehow, this is easier for me to pick out from the million other voices. Which single voice calls me closer to Jesus? Which enables me to enter His presence unashamed?
He always welcomes, calling me closer to Himself.
The other voices drive me away. “God’s disappointed with you.” “How can He ever use someone like you?” They go on and on, and I hide, afraid to enter the presence of God or open my heart to others.
Jesus’ voice is always the voice of welcome. Are you tired? Come. I'll lead you into rest. Thirsty? Come. Drink. You’ll never thirst again. Hungry? Come. Eat. It’s all free! Lonely? The Father and I will make our home with you. Weak and sick and don’t have a clue how to help yourself? That’s why I came. Those who are well don’t need a doctor. Just come.
The voice of God as heard through the lips of Jesus never shames us. No matter our condition, his arms are always open and his voice speaks gently. “Come.”
It’s posted on my mirror, someone’s summary of this constant call to come. “I require nothing from you but you come to me empty that I may fill you.” (Revelation to Gertrude)
Never ending commitment
This Voice that began the Book by blessing the life He had spoken into being, speaks at the end from the throne. Still welcoming. Still life-giving. Still speaking the same message that He has spoken forever – His eternal commitment to give Himself to us.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “ . . . Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. . . . It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev 21:3-7)
Jesus, tune our ears to Your gracious, life-giving voice.
Tired? (Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 23) Thirsty/Hungry?(Isaiah 55:1-3; John 4:1-26; John 6:32-40, 48-58; 7:37-38; Revelation 7:16-17, 21:3-7; 22:17) Lonely? (John 14:21,23; 15:9,15) Sick and sinful? (Luke 5:27-32)