Hearing the Whispers of God
Part 4 of an article and podcast series based on the book Unseen Footprints: Encountering the Divine Along the Journey of Life. You can find out more about the book here. (Picture: by Neal)
In Unseen Footprints I suggest that God is trying to get our attention. In varied means and ways he is drawing us towards himself, beckoning us to find him. But he rarely shouts to make himself heard. Instead, he whispers to us. Before we’ve even opened a Bible he has been drawing, beckoning, whispering. Will we stop to hear him? Will we even attempt to hear his voice? His whisper is his invitation.
This post is about some of the ways God whispers to us and how we can hear those whispers. I flesh out these ideas a little more in the podcast below and, of course, in much greater detail in the book.
Here are four ways God whispers to us. They range from the general to the personal.
1. Through the Grandeur of the World
Ours is a most incredible universe – a cosmos of 50 billion known galaxies (the better the telescopes get, the more galaxies come into focus); a universe containing a revolving ball with conditions inexplicably hospitable to human life; a system of precise planetary motions producing consistent seasons on earth like clockwork.
As scientists and philosophers like Martin Rees and Alister McGrath have noted, this universe seems ‘fine-tuned’ for our existence. Take gravity for example. If gravity were only slightly stronger, stars would flame so fiercely they would burn out in a year leaving us with a universe of cinders. But if gravity were slightly weaker, stars couldn’t form and the universe would be a thin undifferentiated blur.
Beauty is another example. There is no real reason to expect beauty to ‘evolve’ – it does not enhance our ability to survive and doesn’t really abide by the rules of natural selection. The human ability to appreciate beauty raises similar arguments – aesthetic enjoyment is not essential for our existence.
Could the grandeur of the world be a whisper of God to us, inviting us to discover the one who made it?
2. Through Laughter and Play
In his fascinating book A Rumour of Angels sociologist Peter L. Berger describes human behaviours that he believes are ‘signals of transcendence’ – natural experiences that point to a super-natural world beyond them.
Take humour, for instance. Most of our humour highlights a discrepancy between the way life is and the way it ought to be. What do we laugh at most? Our failures! The satire of the political cartoonist and the bumbling adventures of a stand up comic both describe a world of imperfection. As we laugh at them we affirm the possibility (even the reality) of a perfect world. ‘The comic reflects the imprisonment of the human spirit in the world,’ says Berger. ‘By laughing at the imprisonment of the human spirit, humour implies that this imprisonment is not final but will be overcome.’
Play is another heavenly experience. Ever been ‘lost’ in a game of sport, a hobby, or creative endeavour and felt like time has stood still? Joyful play sets up an alternative universe from the serious world of work and responsibility. In this universe time seems to fly by without our awareness, and pain and death seem far away from us. As we play we experience for a moment what an eternal state of joy might be like. As we play it’s as if God opens our eyes to catch a glimpse of heaven.
3. Through the Love of Others
In Unseen Footprints I tell the story of Johnny Lee Clary, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. When his father committed suicide and his mother showed little interest in looking after him, Johnny found himself in the first group that offered him a sense of belonging and identity – the Klan. Johnny rose through the KKK ranks, abusing African Americans, burning down their churches and recruiting others to do the same.
But then Johnny met a black Baptist preacher named Wade Watts. Reverend Watts prayed for Johnny and refused to retaliate, even though Johnny burnt down his churches and harassed his family. Through Reverend Watts Johnny heard the whisper of a good and loving God calling him to another way.
4. Through Direct Address
Then there are times when God’s whispers get louder and he speaks to us directly and clearly. I’ve already mentioned the examples of Mother Teresa, David Wilkerson and Florence Nightingale in an earlier post. Each heard a voice that led them on to their significant life ventures. Some have heard God speak to them clearly through a dream. I recount two instances of such an experience here. Well-known American church leader Mark Driscoll told me in an Open House Volume 3 interview that he heard a distinct and audible voice direct him to start his church.
Most of us know of well-meaning but ultimately misguided folks who claimed to hear God’s voice but were in fact hearing nothing more than the wishes of their own subconscious minds. But the counterfeit shouldn’t discount the authentic, especially when such messages are objectively confirmed, in line with God’s nature and ways, and when they lead to the benefit of others.
Readers familiar with this blog will know that I believe in prayer and Holy Scripture as the ultimate means of hearing from God. For those not yet on the Christian path (or for people of faith who want to explore how God might’ve been quietly working in their lives without their realising it), I suggest the following exercise.
Download this FREE Word doc worksheet (or the PDF version), or create something similar in your journal or notebook. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Then, spend some time recalling the loving people, memorable places and significant events during each phase of your life – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc – and list them in each column.
- People: Who has profoundly touched your life in a positive way? Who took a special interest in you, cared for you, or understood you when others didn’t? Who taught you an important lesson, gave you an important skill, or provided you with guidance when you needed it most? How did their lives ‘speak’ to you?
- Places: Recall the homes, rooms, porches, backyards, parks, holidays and other locations you have felt ‘blessed’ to be in throughout your life. These are places of warmth, safety, excitement or discovery. Where were they? What happened there?
- Experiences: What have been the most significant events in each decade of your life? Think of accomplishments and successes; experiences of beauty, pleasure, play, hope, joy or laughter; moments of elation or clarity; times when you needed food, money or help and it came; prayers prayed and answers given. What were those experiences and how did you feel at the time?
Now, over the next few days, reflect on the following question: If there is a divine, benevolent being who has my best interests at heart, could it have been God who was touching my life through these people, places and events?
I just wanted to share an event that I found so remarkable I believe it had to be the direct action of God or an Angel sent by God. I had an ongoing personal internal conflict over a lady I cared greatly for, who decided over 15 months ago we should no longer have any contact. I had been troubled pretty much 24 hours a day for over a year and I might add deeply hurt and a few times suicidal over this loss. I valued this person more than I ever had any one in my life and to see her leave when I thought we should just be stepping into a great future together was just about more than I could take. I am 49 years old and came out of a very difficult and abusive and neglectful childhood, I thought I had suffered emotional pain and depression on the scale of human limits, but was I ever wrong. The pain I suffered when I broke contact with this person was unbearable it shattered me and rendered me totally incapable of even functioning or hardly getting out of bed for weeks. It was emotional pain on a scale that literaly had me curled in a ball and it hurt so bad the sounds that came out of me sounded like a wounded animal. I didn’t realize emotional pain could reach those levels it was the worst experience of my life.
Regardless my love for this person lived on, but often twisted with anger and resentment, and my grief was just horrible. It rocked me to my foundations and it forced me to wonder is God there at all, does he listen, does he care? Does God hear me at all? I have cried a million tears as a lonely child, as a lonely teenager, as a struggling young man who battled alcoholism and depression, and now God you are going to stand back and just let me suffer again?
Well I said all that to say this, God I believe showed up! I was driving by a thrift store about a month ago when for no reason I decided to do a quick turn and see what they had, a totally unplanned stop. They had quite a few books and as I was spiritualy struggling and they were very cheap I bought every thing I thought might be interesting and spiritualy helpful. Maybe three nights later at 2 in the morning I was troubled and restless over this person I valued so much. I questioned God out loud, do you here me God do you care, am I just a mad man to care so much for this person? I turned and looked at these 3 stacks of books on my night stand ( about 20 books). My eyes were drawn to a book called Whisper of an Angels Wings by Charlie Shedd, I reached over pulled this book from the stack ( I was lying in bed) I opened it and immediately felt something fall out of the book onto my chest. I reached down to see what it was and was stunned to see a small card about the size of a playing card with a picture of the very mountains were the person I was thinking about lives and the name of the very place, and a Psalm that said, “I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name O most high”. This place is about 4000 miles from were I was located, I was stunned I lay there staring at it for 30 minutes. I knew God was sending me a message, I knew God heard me and cared about my pain. It also helped me a few days later to send a single line email to this person, that communicated my forgiveness and my expression of unconditional love. This is clearly a whisper from God. I just had to share it. I hope you don’t mind. No one could ever convince me this was coincidence. I believe God was saying I know exactly were she is at and you need to know I hear you and I care about your pain. I felt a need to share this.
What a wonderful story, Robert! Yes, definitely a whisper from God – the details are too striking to be a coincidence. I wonder how the card came to be in the book in the first place, and if the person who put it there ever knew just how that simple act would be used by God to bring you comfort. I do love the fact it ended in your forgiveness of the person too – another work of God.
God is sometimes silent, but never absent. And His silences are often broken with short but powerful words like this.
God bless you and thanks so much for sharing this beautiful experience.