Do you hear God speaking? Do you obey?
In 1835, Hans Christian Andersen published a small booklet containing a simple story, among others, The Princess and the Pea. It spun the tale of a prince searching for a princess, only to find one problem princess after another. During his search for a “real” princess an unlikely candidate appeared one evening at the king’s gate during a downpour, drenched. Inviting her in for the night, the suspicious queen mother placed a pea under twenty mattresses with the thought that only a “real” princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea. The poor girl slept horribly, wondering what hard object hid beneath her bedding. Having passed the test of a “real” princess, the two were married and lived happily ever after.
I use the story when teaching others about hearing God speak. The art of hearing God’s voice takes similar sensitivity. But, the gift isn’t as rare as the princess. It can be cultivated. A recent church at which I preached sat in a community with over 18 local radio stations. I asked if anyone could hear them. None could, naturally. To hear them would have required a radio tuned to a particular unique frequency assigned to each station. Listening to one precludes hearing any others - by design. Hearing God speak is similar.
Especially during these days of global turmoil, homespun and “logical” wisdom abounds in many flavors. Everyone claims to be right. Even Christians are forming circles of opinion. The need for hearing God’s single voice is profound. Humanity needs truth. By definition, truth excludes all other kinds of information. God’s voice crowds out all others for those who hear Him. How can it happen and what follows? I explain using five words: listen, hear, recognize, understand, and obey. When all five happen, a person not only hears God’s voice, but they carry out His intentions. They feel the pea under all of the mattresses.
No one hears without listening. Listening is an intentional act. It still amazes me that someone can be standing beside another person who is talking and be totally unaware. Or, they can be in a crowd and miss everything. They aren’t listening. The human ability to be physically present, but ignore our sense of hearing is astounding. Listening is akin to awareness. It means “checking in” to the world outside our heads.
Once I’m listening, I can hear. It’s like opening a spout. When I hear something, it penetrates my listening and seizes my attention. Consider a loud boom, a scream or a horn blast. A listening person suddenly turns in the sound’s direction. Listen. Hear. They occur in order. Then, recognition can happen.
Recognizing is another fascinating human ability. I can know the identity of a sound without seeing the source. Humans have stunning voice recognition capabilities. But, those abilities have to be trained. My brother-in-law called many times after I’d gotten married and simply said, “Hey,” when I answered the phone. It was before caller I.D. My response was, “Who is this?” Awkward pauses always followed. After a while, I began recognizing his voice. I didn’t need his name anymore. Spiritually sensitive individuals train to recognize the voice of God. They don’t want to be led astray.
In a crowded noisy room, I might suddenly notice a familiar sound, so I begin listening more intently. By recognition, I focus upon individual sounds among those I hear. I isolate those that sound familiar because I know them. I search for one sound. Thus, in that crowded and noisy room, I can hear my wife speaking across the room by recognizing her voice and focusing upon it. Of course, that only happens when I want to hear and when I listen first. I suggest a robust diet of daily Scripture - familiarity fosters recognition. Listen. Hear. Recognize. Then, understand.
Decoding is the trickiest step of communication. If I use the wrong code or algorithm, my efforts of understanding can return only a vague, muddled, confused message - at best. I won’t be able to understand the message. It takes care and skill to understand. Setting, mood, history, and other factors influence the apparent meaning of a message. Noise can interfere. Christians must listen intentionally, hear God, recognize His voice, then carefully decode God’s instructions and messages. Otherwise, we miss what He’s trying to get across.
Finally, once a person understands what God is saying, he or she faces a test: obedience. What one does with revelation from God matters. Imagine going to the trouble of listening, hearing, recognizing, and understanding and then ignoring the message. It happens all the time. Following God’s instructions takes the same intentionality required of listening and understanding. It takes work.
Listen. Hear. Recognize. Understand. Obey. It takes a special princess, a sensitive one, to detect a pea under twenty mattresses. Likewise, with all the distractions of today’s world, it takes a spiritually sensitive person to actually hear and understand God. Scripture says, “The unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God's Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).
God speaks because He wants us to hear His voice. He wants to converse with us. He wants us to hear of the treasures of heaven, hidden to us by sin. He wants to unfold His plans into our lives. He wants to interact. That’s why He speaks. Communication is effortless for God, but a journey for humanity. So, do we listen like unbelievers or like spiritual people? It’s a question worth pondering.
Listen. Hear. Recognize. Understand. Obey
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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