I have to admit I’m skeptical when I hear people talk about hearing God’s voice—as in, hearing an audible voice telling them exactly what to do. This is partly because I never have, and neither have most Christians. It’s also because of the reported content: I’ve never heard anyone who supposedly hears from God recount being rebuked, corrected, or warned by the heavenly voice. The messages are always positive, always green lighting the path the listener wants to take.
That’s not how I see God speaking to individuals in the Bible.
When God spoke audibly, it was usually to warn or command folks to do exactly what they DIDN’T want to do. And hearing directly from God wasn’t a common occurrence, unless you count all the years of warnings that came through God’s prophets, rife with apocalyptic visions and fervent appeals for repentance. But even those prophetic voices were the exception, rather than the norm, throughout much of Israel’s history.
But I absolutely believe God speaks to us today: through his Word, through our conscience, through the love and concern of other believers, and even through our dreams. This is what I believe David meant when he spoke of ‘hearing God’s voice’. The Hebrew writer repeats this phrase three times in an effort to grab our attention:
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness…(Heb.3:7-8;15;4:7)
In this context, “hearing his voice” doesn’t imply hearing an audible voice. In fact, if God were to interrupt your reading of this article in a booming baritone, addressing you by name and rattling the pencils off your desk, you’d be stupefied with fear as you fell to the floor in worship. I doubt you’d forget a single word, or hesitate to obey.
Rather, “hearing his voice” means feeling that twinge of guilt, anxiety, accountability—whatever you want to call it—when the Word of God convicts us of sin. We read about Moses’ faithfulness, Christ’s obedience, the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf—topics already addressed—-and these words should prick our hearts. Am I a faithful servant, as Moses was? Am I taking Christ’s obedience and sacrifice for granted? Have I been fixing my thoughts on Jesus? And so on.
His Word should prick our hearts every time we read it, unless we’ve reached sinless perfection (not by a long shot!). And we should be grateful it does. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit: convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8). If we DON’T feel this response to the Scriptures, our hearts are in deep trouble; they’ve grown hard by repeated refusals to humble and submit to the Spirit as he speaks through the Word.
We might think hard hearts belong only to pagans and hardened criminals, but people who sit in pews every Sunday, half-listening to the Word while their minds frolic with other thoughts, have scary hearts, too. These endangered believers are also unlikely to pick up their Bibles throughout the week, because the Word no longer penetrates and no longer excites. And so the hardening continues.
Is your heart still soft? Can it still be pricked with conviction? Are you eager to hear, read, discuss, and ponder the Scriptures? Are you receptive, or defensive?
We’re going to return to the rest of David’s quotation, taken from Psalm 95, in my next article, but for now I want to jump ahead to verse 12:
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb.2:12-13)
The writer makes an automatic connection from heart maintenance to relationships; specifically, our relationships in the church. He calls us to look out for one another, to pay attention to the condition of our hearts—not only our own, but each other’s. This means my brothers’ and sisters’ spiritual well-being IS my business, my concern, my (partial) responsibility. If you’re not doing well, if you seem discouraged or entangled in sin, if your life exhibits unbelief and pulling back or turning away, I’m called to help.
For many years, I belonged to a dynamic church fellowship where this scripture was diligently applied. We devoted ourselves to each other’s spiritual growth and well-being, to calling each other higher and candidly addressing the sins we confessed or perceived in each other. We all had weekly sessions with a close brother or sister to discuss the state of our hearts, and for the most part, it worked. Yes, there were times when people hid secrets; yes, personal boundaries were sometimes breached. But devoting ourselves to this level of involvement kept the Body strong and focused, and most of us cherished the time we spent encouraging each another as we examined our hearts and strived to be more like Jesus.
It seems we live in different times today. There’s a busy-ness factor, a caught-up-in-social-media factor, a mind-your-own-business factor that pervades our lives and makes it hard to obey this powerful teaching. I still have those kinds of relationships, but not with the focus and regularity of former times. It’s harder to bring up painful or uncomfortable concerns when we haven’t cultivated that degree of transparency and openness. And I fear the pervasive secular culture of valuing ‘tolerance’ and political correctness over obedience and community has begun to infect the church at large.
In other words, it’s hard to speak up when we see a fellow Christian drifting—or falling—into sin.
But we’re supposed to.
This scripture tells us to encourage one another DAILY. I have to give myself failing grades on this: seven days fly by till it’s Sunday again, and I’ve done little, if anything, to encourage my brothers and sisters in the meantime. With phones, Facebook, email, and texting, it shouldn’t be hard to connect and make even a token effort. ( And token efforts should be only the first step towards fuller obedience.) But even there, I’m falling short.
And I know I’m not the only one.
Sometimes it’s enough to merely connect, to say hello, to ask what we can pray for, to wish each other well. When we’re doing fine, a five-minute talk goes a long way. But sometimes we need stronger interventions: asking the hard questions, probing beneath spiritual dullness and indifference, getting to the heart of lapsed attendance and lessened involvement. Having the ‘hard talks’ we’re so reluctant to initiate. And doing so early, before it’s too late.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…
What is God speaking to you?