Our dog Moose has great ears. They are big and floppy, and he loves it when we rub them. When Moose was just a tiny pup and still with his littermates, one of the other puppies bit off a sizable piece of Moose’s right ear. Originally, all the litter was named after fish (for example, there was Puffer, Trout, Bass, Pickerel and so forth). We’re not sure which of the hooligans took a chomp out of Moose’s ear, but I always thought Shark looked awfully guilty. But in spite of the injury, Moose still has great ears. If a car door closes outside, Moose hears it. If someone drops a piece of food on the floor, Moose hears it. If someone knocks gently on the front door, Moose hears it and lets us know instantly. In fact, he hears everything, except when we ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. Then he doesn’t hear so well. I’m going to guess that he gets that from me. I am really good at hearing God’s voice except when I would rather not.
God speaks clearly in his word. In it, we learn God’s voice. And we hear what is important in life; and if we listen carefully enough and put the right things into practice, we grow wise. And honestly, if we just opened our ears to God’s Word, we would have more than enough to do. But sometimes we know what to do, but something just gets in the way. And that is when God nudges us to follow his voice.
Scot McKnight has a new book coming out entitled, The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Around Us. Let me just say it: I love that title. I have no idea if the book is any good (but most things Scot writes are truly worth reading), but that title made me think. What does it mean for us to listen for God? Here’s what I know: rarely does God jump up and down, screaming to get our attention. Instead, God often whispers into our lives (or “hums” if you prefer Scot’s metaphor) and invites us to follow him. Now to be honest, we would prefer the unmistakable loud voice that rattles away all uncertainty. Bertrand Russell, one of the more notable philosophers of the 20th century, was an outspoken atheist. Once, he was asked what he would say if he were to die only to wake up and find out that there was a God to whom he had to give an account. Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Sir, you did not give me enough evidence.’” Sadly, like Russell, in our heart of hearts, we all wish that God would speak loudly. But more often than not, God chooses to speak to us today more in subtle tones, in quiet words and in unruffled ways. He chooses to speak to us in sounds that seek to win the heart rather than to mandate the will. It’s love that God is after, not mechanical obedience; and whispers are the language of love.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine recently dropped in on some friends of his for a fun social call. But during the course of the evening, the husband confided that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. My friend responded with compassion and gentleness, but even as he was speaking to his friend, he heard God whisper to him. And the whisper was clear: You need to pray for him. Now these friends were incredibly nice, but they weren’t in anyone’s definition religious. To pray for him was risky and might be construed as offensive. But the whisper was unmistakable, and so he asked if he could pray for him. And to my friend’s surprise, the husband said yes. The prayer was neither long nor deeply theological, but it was powerful. And the husband was visibly moved by my friend’s concern.
What will come of this prayer, I have no idea; but this I do know. My friend walked away knowing God’s presence in a powerful way. His faith was strengthened, and God’s kingdom was advanced. All because he heard God’s whisper and responded. And that’s the challenge; and it is as big as a moose: will we listen when God speaks? In quoting one of my favorite psalms, the author of Hebrews writes, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Here’s the question (for us and for Moose the dog): “When we hear the voice of our master, whether it’s in the form of a whisper or a clear declaration, will we choose to respond or will we harden our hearts?”