I was drifting in a land that wasn't real, and hearing noises that seemed to be filtered through a tunnel. The colors began to blur into one another and I knew I was sleeping, and didn't want to wake up. But there was this call back to reality, a whisper that cut like dull scissors into the balloon reality of my dream, and sucked the life out of it.
"Pssstt.... Moooooommm!!!" an urgent little voice whispered. "Moooooom!" It was quiet, yet insistent, and despite the fact that the whispering came from outside of my bedroom door, I couldn't deny hearing it. My attention was required. I could barely prop my eyelids open and I notice the red numbers on the clock: 3:16am. I'm like a drunk when I am pulled prematurely from my slumber - the room seems to spin and I stumble around and feel lost! Regardless, my mother's heart was stronger than my worn-out mother's body, and I was propelled to respond to the needs of my child.
We aren't often confronted by a quiet voice in life. Too often, the voices that speak to us are loud, demanding, and sometimes obnoxious. It's a rare thing that my children will talk to me in anything quieter than a roar. I constantly chide them to use their "inside voice". It's not entirely their fault though - their father is known to have a voice that can overtake a room full of people!
There is someone who consistently speaks quietly to me, though. He always speaks gently. He often waits for me to be quiet and still before speaking. He never yells at me, and I wouldn't consider him demanding. Often He is trying to speak and I'm too busy and preoccupied to listen.
I had a bizarre experience a few weeks ago, when I was shopping. I was pushing my cart - loaded up with small kids and toilet paper, apples, butter and milk, and I heard behind me someone calling my name "Lisa!" I turned and saw other people shopping, but there was no one I knew, and it didn't look like anyone was calling me. I was puzzled, and thought I must be hearing things, but I had a peculiar feeling. I continued on with my shopping, bought my groceries and was then on my way out the store when it happened again. This time, I clearly heard "Lisa" from the entrance of the store, just ahead of me, on my right. I stopped in my tracks and peered to my right - but there was just a couple of East Indian women wearing saris, sitting on a bench by the door chatting with each other. They weren't looking at me, and they weren't even speaking in English! I gave my head a shake and continued out to the van, to unload my groceries and kids and head home.
For the next hour or so, I was perplexed and befuddled, trying to figure out what was going on in my head - why was I seemingly hearing my name being called? What the heck? I may be a little crazy, but I'd never heard voices before!
Something occurred to me. I felt an impression that there was a message for me to glean from this experience. I realized how often I'm so busy and preoccupied with life, and God is trying to get my attention. This was a tangible admonition to "listen" and take notice.
There is a story told in the Old Testament of the Bible, of when one of God's prophets, Elijah, was feeling very alone in the world. He was in a place of terrible persecution and felt like no one else wanted to follow God. He ran off to hide in a cave, and needed an answer from God, to know what to do! God began to speak to him, and I'll pick up the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 -
11 Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. (NKJV)
I like the idea of a still small voice. Maybe it's the mother in me, but there is a certain appeal to communication that doesn't require shouting, nagging or obstinate, incessant articulation! It is intriguing to me that God could do a variety of things to show his power, and get His point across. He has the ability to tear through mountains with a ferocious wind, shake the earth with a mighty earthquake, or burn with a blazing fire - but that isn't His modus operandi ('mode of operating', in Latin). He chose a gentle communication - something that requires the audience to be quiet and to tune their ears to listen.
Another example of this in the Bible was with a young boy, Samuel, who worked and lived in the temple with one of the priests, Eli. God chose to speak by waking Samuel up at night, calling his name. At first Samuel was convinced that Eli was calling him, until the priest recognized that God seemed to be speaking to the boy and instructed him to say "Here I am" (to God) "Your servant is listening."
I think there is a certain type of receptivity required for us to hear God. It has a lot more to do with being open and aware that God wants to get through to us, than it has to do with some sort of supernatural ability. It involves not being so caught up in the "affairs of this life" (2 Tim 2:4) and not being so incredibly busy that we miss what God is trying to tell us. Clearly we can't just stop everything we're doing and sit around all day, hoping that God will start to talk to us. I have neither the time, nor the attention span at the moment to be able to engage in quiet meditation all day long! My responsibilities dictate that I must learn to listen "on my feet" so to speak. Like the day I was in the supermarket - you never know when or where God is going to put something on your heart. You don't know when He is going to reveal something to you, so it's important to be receptive and willing to slow down and listen when you feel a prompting in your heart to do so.
On the other hand, I very much believe in the art of quiet meditation. Once in a while, my house is strangely silent and still. This seems to only happen in conjunction with everyone in the house being asleep, and it being 5am, but there is something really awe-inspiring about the stillness of the "middle of the night". Sometimes, if I am up to get a glass of water, I relish the quiet. Sometimes I feel drawn to sit on the couch for a moment, and seek God's presence. Even though I should be sound asleep, and I worry that I will be tired in the morning, I chose to relish this moment of being alone, and quiet in His presence.
If you want to hear God's voice more, you have to be willing to listen carefully. He seems to speak with an "inside voice". Unfortunately, you can't just turn on the radio to "God's channel" and tune in for today's broadcast. (Although we do have the Bible to turn to for His words, whenever we need it.) It seems that if you want to know and experience God for yourself, it requires a bit of patience. It requires a willingness to stop what you are doing once in a while (or get out of your bed in the middle of the night) and say "Here I am, your servant is listening." Sometimes it requires heading out to the wilderness and standing on the mountain alone, waiting for the wind to die down, and the storms of life to calm - so that we are left alone, standing in silence. Then He speaks...