St. Patrick, before he became a saint, was a kidnapped British slave, serving as a shepherd to an Irish nobleman. While out in the fields one afternoon, a voice spoke to him, “Go now, your ship is ready.” He ran like Forrest Gump, a full hundred miles to the coast, and found there docked on the shore an English ship which took him back to his homeland, where he trained for the ministry, then returned to Ireland as a missionary, and through his work saved that nation, and then all of Western Civilization when the Dark Ages fell.
St. Augustine, before he became a saint, was one of the greatest of sinners. His life was lost in perversion, sexual sin and self-absorption. One day he was sitting in a garden, in agony about the condition of his life, and he heard a child’s voice speak aloud, saying, “Take and read.” He looked about him, and saw nothing, but an open Bible nearby.
He leaned over, took it, began to read these words: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not fulfill the lusts of sinful flesh.” And he realized that Almighty God was calling him to forsake his sinful ways and surrender his life to Christ.
Not only does God speak to us through creation, and through his Word, but Christians have testified over the centuries that God also speaks to us with direct precision through his Spirit.
You might hear the stories of Augustine and Patrick and say, “But these were great men of God, I am no one. God wouldn’t speak to me.” And you couldn’t be more wrong. When the Holy Spirit was given to the church, he was given to every follower of Christ, in direction fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy from Joel that described how everyone – old and young, men and women, slave and great – would share in the experience.
What that means on a practical level is that God now can communicate with us in a way that wasn’t possible before Jesus. We all have a river of thoughts that flow through our mind each day. Somewhere in that jumble of thoughts, God may be trying to get a word in edgewise. Isn’t that exciting to realize?
How do I have more of this experience? Three things are necessary.
First, you must follow Jesus Christ.
Only a disciple of Jesus has the Holy Spirit within them, so only the follower of Jesus can have this experience. God can speak to unbelievers also (he is God, after all) but usually it’s an external thing, like a voice shouting from across the fence, and not the warm, familiar, internal voice of Someone making a home within your heart.
Second, to hear God’s voice, you must study and obey the Word of God.
The Bible is our measuring stick for determining what’s really from God or not. If the voice you’re hearing doesn’t line up with the clear teaching of Scripture, then that voice – however loudly it speaks – is not from God.
Third, to hear God’s voice, you must stop, look and listen.
Turn down the noise in your life. Stop with the busyness, leaving no margins in your schedule. Stop crowding out all the quiet places in your life. I go to the gym, and see nothing but people with earbuds stuck in their ears. I see people in their cars, and they have their radios blaring. At night, you walk by house after house and see the white glow in the windows of TVs that are on.
You’ll never hear God if your life is in such a condition.
The Bible says be still and know that he is God. For those who learn to do this (and it is a skill that can be learned), the time comes when out of all the voices playing inside their heads, there comes a whisper of something different, of something sweeter, of something that we know is not us. When that happens, pay attention. God could be near.