How do you hear God's voice? If you're anything like me, you'll have certainly experienced the frustration of trying, and apparently failing to hear anything at all. Have you ever put away all distractions and sat in silence, in a comfortable position just like all the guidebooks say, only to be met by a wall of nothing? Have you ever screwed your eyes up tight in an intense strain to discern the whisperings of the almighty, only to start wondering after a while if those wiggly line things on the insides of your eyelids are merging into some sort of prophetic picture? If so, you're not alone.
Last week I wrote briefly about my very, very occasional experience of hearing the audible voice of God. As I said then, this has so far proved to be a twice-in-a-lifetime thing; for the rest of my 25 years as a Christian, I've not heard a peep from the Big Guy. At least, not out loud.
However, the trouble with someone suggesting that they've heard God's voice – even if people don't immediately assume that he's crazy – is that it can provoke feelings of personal disappointment and doubt in others. You might reasonably ask: if God can and does sometimes speak in an audible voice, then why hasn't he spoken like that to me? Indeed, a few people have asked me exactly that question over the past few days.
There's a point to make first, which probably goes without saying. I'm not some sort of super-Christian, just because I happen to have a platform through which to share my thoughts on faith. My prayer and devotional life could be described as good-to-shaky, but is gnat-like in comparison to that of some of the spiritual giants I know. God clearly does not hand out gifts, or choose to speak directly to us, on the basis of spiritual merit. The fact that I appear to have heard from God in this way does not mark me out as some sort of prophet.
Perhaps the most vital (and also frustrating) answer to the question, why doesn't God speak (out loud) to me, is that he mainly doesn't speak out loud. I would imagine in fact that the majority of Christians would report that they have never heard from God in an audible, human-sounding voice. Many great Christian leaders, authors, Bible teachers and even those amazing people who join holy orders are united in not having heard from God in this way.
The most important part of that sentence is the last three words. God usually doesn't speak out loud, but that does not mean that he does not speak. Far more often, he chooses to speak through a whole range of other mechanisms, and the trouble is that if we fixate on trying to hear him form actual audible words, we may miss the divine communication that's right in front of our noses.
For a start, God often speaks to us through the library of Scripture, as the Holy Spirit somehow makes ancient texts extraordinarily relevant to the situations we're facing today. He speaks to us through the wisdom of other Christians, and often prophetically through the example of their lives. Sometimes, I believe, he nudges and guides our thoughts, and uses the most extraordinary message-communication-system he ever designed – our own brains – to help us discern his will. For some, he speak in dreams; for still others, he speaks through art, or through nature. He is endlessly creative, and that extends to how he guides and talks to us. I actually believe he once spoke to me through a dog*, but that's a story for another day.
God is still speaking, every day, in a whole variety of ways. His offer of relationship through Jesus Christ is not about one-way communication, and the testimonies of millions upon millions of Christians add up to suggest that when we talk to God, he does indeed talk back. It's just that, as a rule with the occasional exception, he doesn't use audible words. That's OK: instead of getting hung up on why we're not one of those exceptions today, let's get excited about hearing from him in a hundred other ways instead.
*It wasn't an audible voice that time. I'm not completely barking.