And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12.)
There is a lot of noise in the world. Between kids, pets, work, television, media etc., there is hardly a moment’s peace. I will never forget coming home from work one day to an empty house. I went into the kitchen only to hear my kids screaming in the background. I immediately turned to tell them to quiet down, only to realize they weren’t there. It was the first “quiet” I had known in a long time and all I could hear in my head was noise. Having this experience has taught me about the beauty of how God speaks to us.
Descriptions of how we hear God are words such as peace, warmth, calm, joy, love. These words have one thing in common; they are feelings. I find it interesting, and quite fitting, that God does not necessarily speak to us with sound, but rather to our spirit through His spirit. The still, small voice that touches our hearts is the witness that God lives and is interested in our well-being. In this way, He can penetrate through the noise of our daily lives to reach our hearts. The quiet calm, the peaceful joy that you feel inside will bring you closer to His presence. This is the principle way God speaks to us, and recognizing this will help us better listen to and communicate with Him.
Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Professor, puts it this way:
“We speak to each other in physical, analog ways. Our vocal cords vibrate. This initiates waves in the air, which are also physical. These waves hit the eardrums of others, causing them to vibrate, which in turn creates tiny electrical signals that transport those vibrating patterns to the listeners’ brains. In turn, the signals initiate neurons to zip around our brains, distilling the concept that the speaker wanted to convey. The key concept is that these are physical, mechanical phenomena. We don’t hear with our ears, we hear with our brains. Our wonderful ears are converters; they transform mechanical into electronic signals.
“So far as we know, these physical, mechanical waves that convey speech don’t work in space, where there is no atmosphere. So if two astronauts took off their helmets on the moon and tried to talk to each other, it wouldn’t work, because there is no air in which vibrations can be converted into waves. So they need to talk electronically, not mechanically.
“This is a long way of saying that you should not expect God to speak to you by these physical waves that your ears collect. Rather, He dispatches the Holy Ghost, which is the Spirit of God, to you, and His spirit can communicate to your spirit inside of you directly to your brain or your feelings – without going through mechanical-electrical conversions in your ears. A lot of people get confused because they try to hear God’s voice with their ears, and they don’t hear anything. Instead, you need to listen inside of yourself.” (Christensen, Clayton, The Power of Everyday Missionaries.)
The Day that I Drowned
To illustrate this point, I can recollect the time when I was a young man just beginning Boy Scouts. We were set to go on a canoe trip down the Jordon River, in Utah. The river was just a stone’s throw away from my home; as well as the leader’s home. We formed a single file line as we carried the canoes along the bank on the river. I was at the end of the line – not the best idea in retrospect.
As we walked along the river, I took a misstep and lost my balance, falling into the river. I was quickly engulfed in the water; as this particular river has strong undercurrents and the more I struggled to swim the deeper I was being pulled under. Even worse, all of the kids kept walking ahead; they had no idea I had fallen in.
I tried to scream for help, but the water filled my mouth. I was in deep trouble and I knew this was the end for me. Far from being scared, however, a calm came over me. It was a peace I had never felt before. I stopped struggling and I took what I knew would be my last breath and went under: I had drowned.
Just then, a voice came into my head: it was a soft voice, but also a powerful voice that shook me to my core. I knew it was the spirit of God and it simply said: “reach your hand up as far as you can.” I obeyed and reached my hand as high as I could. When I did this, I felt a hand grab my hand and pull me out of the water. It was the daughter of the scout leader, who just so happened to need to relay a message to her father and was trying to catch him before he left. She saw me fall in and rushed to help me. When she got to the bank of the river, where she saw me fall in, she could not see me until I reached out my hand. Had I not listened to the voice, I would not be alive today.
I remember when I was a teenager, I was driving home one night on an empty street, while listening to very loud music. As I approached an intersection, where I had the right of way, I heard a voice that went straight to my core and shook me once again. The voice whispered: “stop!” I quickly put on the breaks of the car and came to a stop just before the intersection where a car came flying through the stop sign and certainly would have crushed me.
It wasn’t that I avoided the accident, it was that I could hear a voice so penetrating that after several years, I can still feel the way it felt. And yet the description is that it whispered, didn’t shout or scream. I did not hear it with my ears but my heart and in my mind.
The Accident, Part II
As a young adult one night, as I was sleeping, I was awoken suddenly by a voice in my head. I was told that I needed to call a young lady immediately. Looking at the clock and seeing that it was 2:00 am, not to mention both of us being single and attending the same church, I said to myself: “no way!” I tried to go back to sleep, but the voice grew stronger and stronger, urging me to call. Again, and again, I declined, convincing myself it was all in my head. Mercifully, it stopped, and I was able to get back to sleep.
A few days later, I was speaking with this young woman and skeptically asked if there was anything interesting that happened to her on that particular night around 2 am. Her face went flush and asked me how I knew. She mentioned she had been in an accident, sliding off the road, and could not find anyone to help her. She prayed that someone would be able to come to her aid. Finally, someone did, but it was hours after I would have been able to get there. I learned that day about the importance of listening!
The Girl at Work
More recently, I went to work sick. I was exhausted and had no intention of going to work that day, but resisted the urge to call out and made it in. I was hoping it would be an easy day and that I could get out of there at a decent hour; it turned out to be an incredibly long day and I was exhausted.
Around the 10th hour of work, I was finally getting to a stopping point, when a thought impressed my mind – I needed to ask one of my employees to visit with me. This could not have come at a worse time, as I just wanted to go home and go to bed. Even though I knew better than not to listen; I ignored it. The thought persisted, however, and this time I succumbed. I asked her to come and talk to me at my desk.
This employee just recently had a child and had just returned from maternity leave. Prior to leaving she was the happiest employee and nothing changed when she returned. Always smiling, always helping others, always happy. She sat down and asked what I needed and I did not know what to say. My mind was blank other than I knew I was supposed to meet with her. I made some small talk before asking if we needed to go talk in a meeting room. She turned a bit pale and said that we did.
Once we got to the meeting room, the happiest person in the company let me know that she is suffering from severe postpartum depression. She let me know that she is hiding it from everyone, including her husband, because in her culture it is a sign of weakness. She said she is dying inside and needed to tell someone. She could not understand how I knew something was wrong, but she was grateful that she could confide in me.
I am not an expert at these things, but in addition to listening, I was able to provide her with some resources to get her on a path to recovery. I made it clear to her that it was impossible for me to know that she was struggling. I told her that I got an impression that I needed to talk to her, but had no idea why. I let her know that I think it is awesome that God knows her struggles and was mindful enough of her to help her. She said she is not a religious person, but however it happened, she is happy I was willing to listen.
These are just a few examples from my own personal experiences where I can witness that the spirit of God has spoken to me: not in a loud voice, but a soft, quiet, penetrating voice that left deep impressions in my own soul.