When I was a child, I remember my mother and her mother exchanging letters each week. My grandparents lived in Hawaii, and my family in New York. On holidays… Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, we would all gather around the telephone and actually TALK to one another, for just a scant few moments… but it was so tremendous to actually hear my grandmother’s voice, or Grandpa’s… it was like magic!
My biological father did business all over the world, 6 continents. And at least once a week, he “phoned home” as he traveled… sometimes for weeks at a time. As years progressed (and phone service improved), that became daily calls, I got to talk to him every day. It was like magic!
A few years ago, my son-in-law’s army unit deployed to Afghanistan. His daughter was two, and his wife (my daughter) was expecting their second child. Alongside all reasonable concern for his wellness and safety, I thought about the impact this separation would have on his family. I thought of the numbers of times I’ve seen returning service personnel run to their children to hug them, and seen that child pull away in fear at this “charging stranger”. I shuddered to think of my granddaughter doing this.
But my fears were ill founded. We have progressed to the age of “Skype”. My granddaughter and daughter talked, laughed, waved, with their beloved EVERY EVENING… FACE TO FACE! He saw her walk that first day, he heard many of her first words, and he laughed and giggled with her “Goo’ Nye, Daddy” over and over. It was like magic!
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Yesterday, Don Merritt wrote a great post, “Anybody Listening?” on his Life Reference blog, discussing the importance of prayer. He highlighted the reality that most of us are busy people, hard pressed to find the time to spend with God, and that often those of us who DO take time to pray, spend most of that time “talking”, and maybe not so much “listening”.
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I may have mentioned that I grew up in a home that “officially/parentally” hated God. I was not permitted to speak of, hear, discuss God, pray, or have or talk about the Bible. He was just “not allowed in our house”. Equally, I was not allowed to attend church or Sunday School, and managed to go to about 5 services (when I stayed overnight with some other family who went, and took me along).
At 7 years old, moving across country, I encountered a Gideon Bible in a motel drawer that said (effectively), “If you don’t have one, and you want one, take this one.” (I didn’t, and I did, so I did… and hid it under my mattress to read behind my locked bedroom door or under blankets by flashlight.) So, until I was 18 years old and began college, all I knew about God was what He Himself could teach me, primarily from the Bible, especially the Gospels, and through prayer.
Now, Jesus “spoke to me” through the wee small voice of conscience, quite clearly, since I was three… and once I had a Bible, He would “take me there”, using what I later learned were “meditation” and “application of the senses”, making scenes clearly play out before my mind’s eye. He would “invite me along” and let me “participate” as we walked together end to end through the Gospels… Him, me, and “the guys”.
By the way, pastors and Sunday School teachers, I only got to “hear” about 5 sermons before the age of 18, and I still remember 3 of them. One of them I’m going to mention here, was an “anchor” in my whole formation and spiritual life. But believe me when I say… you will NEVER KNOW when you plant seeds of truth and grace in the heart of a one-time visitor, perhaps a child, and have an impact that persists for the rest of their life.
One of those sermons, I will ALWAYS remember, I was about 11 years old. And this preacher was talking about “the Voice of God”. He said he had always noticed that God spoke clearly to small children in a “wee small voice” of conscience. But that as we get older, start to get to our teens and such, we have a choice whether to heed that voice, mind that voice of conscience telling us right from wrong, or not. That, the more we heed right, the louder and clearer this voice became. But when we ignore it, turn from it, choose to do wrong, that voice becomes more and more faint… until eventually, we may no longer hear it at all. It was our choice. That almost all children had and heard it, over our teen years fewer heard it, and that, frankly, few adults heard it at all.
I recall praying, right there and then, in great anxiety… “Lord, is this true? Can I lose this voice of Yours?” And Him responding that, at least for me, this was true. Very fervently I prayed right there, that He never EVER allow me that. Whatever He had to do, whatever it took, that He never allow me to ignore or miss His voice guiding me. I begged that He promise me that, and He did, provided I would listen and heed Him. I was at peace with that, and have been for the ensuing 5 decades.
There are lots of excellent resources on prayer, on experiencing God, on meditation and contemplation. These are good things. It is difficult, nigh unto impossible, for anyone truly to “communicate” an experience directly from one person to another. Do you disagree? Well, imagine smelling jasmine perfume, or tasting a fabulous slice of chocolate cake. Now, try communicating that EXPERIENCE to someone else who has never done so.
It was not until I entered a parochial Christian college, and entered into discussion of such things with faculty trained to help others develop prayer skills, that I came to realize that my own “experience” of God through prayer was not “typical and common”. (At least among “Christians”.) I clearly remember being shocked, utterly gobsmacked, in a discussion with my Theology professor, to find that my “wee small voice” had a “technical name”. It was a “sensible grace” called “Prayer of Locution”, and that according to best estimates, it is experienced by about 3% of Christians.
Unfortunately, given my youthful omniscience and arrogance, (once I got past the shock of realizing that not everyone could hear the clear voice of God… *honest, I thought this was “normal”*) I took this information in the best traditions of my pride, considering others… “normal” people… as “deaf-mutes”. (If you find such arrogance and attitude shocking and offensive, you are right, and I apologize… it was unconscionable, indefensible, and quite out of order. “Spiritual elitism” of the worst kind, and it shames me (now) to admit how solidly I believed it (then).)
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But here, with nearly a shuddering halt, is the entire point of this post.
Ten years later, as I began public ministry and my world view expanded exponentially, I learned that I was totally, completely, and utterly wrong on a critical truth. What truth?
God “speaks” to those willing to “hear” Him, in a multitude of ways. This issue of discernment does not depend on “modality”, it depends on “willingness to obey”.
Experientially… I have learned that a multitude of deeply God-led Spirit-filled people, do not have Prayer of Locution. Some have “direct impression”, or “insight”, a straightforward understanding of the will and leadership of God in their lives. Others derive very specific inspiration through their studies of scripture and text. Others have totally other means for perceiving God’s leadership and guidance.
I was blessed even to have mentors, of tremendous value in my life, who initially I radically underestimated because they did not “hear” God in prayer the way I did. Nonetheless, their discernment, guidance, and mentoring in my development was a laser-sharp and on point as anyone who experienced two-way vocal prayer.
Scripturally… God “speaks” to man in a variety of ways, from thunder on the mountainside, to a wee small whisper of a breeze. When the Holy Spirit speaks, some people heard words, others heard a rushing wind. Prayer experiences differ… throughout the Bible, and even within a single small prayer group.
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Bottom Line Here: This is not a post about “devotion”, or “teaching”, or “exposition”. I suppose it is just a reflection, a bit of confession. Don Merritt wrote a terrific post, encouraging all of us to allow God to speak to us, commune with us, communicate with us, in prayer.
It made me reflect on my own short-sightedness in years past, believing that My OWN experience of prayer and communion with God, could somehow define and constrain the “right way” for OTHER people to experience God. It has been a very long and humbling trek to realize how much bigger than me, bigger than my imagination, bigger than my own comprehension is God’s grace and determination to be intimate and clear with His children.
This is a note of Encouragement, beyond all else. When you grow in your sense of the greatness and glory of God, and your own humility in face of that… When you grow in your love of others, and sense of service to God… When you grow in your awareness of Jesus’ heart and mind, and how He walked lovingly among people… those are “influence of the Holy Spirit”, and whatever means the Lord uses to do that, is pure Gift. Don’t let anyone else “judge” or “evaluate” the modality God uses to speak to your heart, as better or worse than theirs. And don’t think your own is better or more valid than anyone else’s.
It’s not HOW God speaks to you that is important, what matters is how you respond to Him when He does.
(* Took me a while to learn that! *)