Learning how to discern God’s voice is no easy task in the life-long spiritual walk of a believer. Some voices are pretty easy to weed out of the cacophony of voices that talk at us, to us, or around us throughout our day. After all, any seasoned disciple of Christ knows to compare what a particularly persuasive voice is saying with what the Bible says. But not all voices are easy to separate from the herd, in particular, the ones that come from within ourselves.
While most people would be willing to admit that God is probably larger and more powerful than we generally give Him credit for, many aren’t necessarily aware of the source of those limiting beliefs. Many are based on childhood impressions or Sunday school lessons meant to break God into bite-size pieces for the very young.
Others come from the fact that the Bible was written many ages ago and so God is more of a historical figure than a present help in time of need. If you want to know if your ideas of God are out of date, ask yourself if God understands computer code. If your gut response is no than you might have relegated God to the ancient past. I’m pretty sure He knows all about code, nanotechnology, and even the theory of relativity.
But the most subtle voices we need to quiet in our spiritual repertoire are not external but internal in nature. What makes this difficult is that these are the voices that we believe inform the substance of our lives. These voices inside us tell us who we are. This makes it easy to mistake them for the voice of God. So here goes:
- Our conscience.
There is no doubt that our conscience is a God-given gift. After all, the fact that we have one separates us from the animals. I think of it as a God chip in our programming. We are born with an innate sense that there are a right and wrong. But a conscience is not the voice of God telling us what or what not to do. If that were so, then we would have a lot of disparate versions of God just within our own minds since our conscience grows and matures just as we do.
Our conscience, however, is subject to personality and culture. So many norms have shifted culturally over the millennia that things that were morally permissible before, are not now and vice versa. I am not talking about the Ten Commandments. Most people agree that murder is wrong, etc… But many of the concerns of our lives are extra-biblical such as what we eat, wear, play, listen to, and watch. If God is the voice of our conscience, then He appears to lead many people in different directions.
The other issue of the conscience is that it has a faulty mechanism. Like the humans who carry them, consciences bear the characteristics of the fall. Some are perfectionistic and suffer from chronic guilt, others are under-developed and suffer few moral qualms, and still, others are scarred and of no use at all. While God can use our conscience for His purposes and often does, the job of your conscience is to tell you what you think is right or wrong. Your job is to square your conscience with God’s word, not the other way around.
- Our intuition.
Intuition or spidey-sense is crucial to our safety. I read recently that our subconscious is always taking in and processing information from our surroundings. If you get a sudden sense that something is dangerous and you need to flee the area, listen to that little voice. In all likelihood, your subconscious has picked up on cues that your busy conscious mind did not process. Because women’s brains are wired for connectivity, their intuition is often better developed than men’s.
I think it is wonderful that we are created with survival tools that let us know in our gut whether something is safe or not. Many times I think that we attribute to the Holy Spirit what is our inborn intuitiveness. Our subconscious picks up on the micro-expressions of others or their subtle body language and somehow we know that they are suffering.
But again, our intuition is not the voice of God. It is a God-given gift in our human make-up that God can use for our protection and for relational connection. But it too is only reliable as the human host to whom it is attached. Because our intuition can be powerful at times, it is easy to assume that this represents God’s voice in our lives.
- Our internalized parents.
Many of us pray ‘Dear heavenly version of our earthly father’ well into adulthood. Without conscious separation of our ideas of who God is and who our parents are, we shrink God down to parent sized figures. Now to a two-year-old, a parent is a giant, god-like figure who rules his or her universe. But unless we mature to a place where we recognize our parents as human, we can get caught in an emotional cycle with God similar to the one we replayed over and over with our parents.
For me, God was a benign, brilliant but distant figure who was very busy and stressed. I needed to make some noise in order to make Him hear me. Of course, this was a pasting of the image of my father over the powerful immediacy of the real, living God. I also perceived God as very anxious about my choices. In truth, my mother was anxious about my choices. God is love and there is no fear in love.
These images of our parents distort the real nature of God. This means that our ability to really hear what God is saying can get diluted by the parental filters that we wear like ear muffs over our ears. I used to think God was always telling me Don’t do this! Don’t touch that! Be careful! Now that I have, for the most part, taken off the filters, I hear God more clearly. One thing I know for sure is that He isn’t worried by my mistakes, afraid of my anger, or impatient with my questions.
The reason these three voices get in the way of God’s voice is that they all originate in the soul. But just as the Word of God separates spirit and soul like marrow from the bone, God’s voice can only be heard and received in the spirit. The boney part, our hardened souls must be pierced by His love in order for His voice to penetrate to the core of our being, our spirit to work out the metaphor a bit further.
This is the hardest work of the Christian, to walk in spirit and in truth. To do so is to deny the flesh, to put off the soulish voices howling for their turn, and to listen to the deepest parts of one’s spirit. I think this is why the Desert Fathers and Mothers headed out to the desert for decades. One must be very still and very quiet to know that He is God.
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One of my all-time faves:
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