“God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).
Most people I know have an innate desire to hear God; actually, more than a desire, an intense longing. We want to connect with the divine, to somehow see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s inborn, an inherent ingredient of our humanity.
Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. We don’t notice his voice because we don’t recognize it. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or thorough a speaking beast of burden, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.
We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.
How do we learn to discern God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”
To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.
You and I are already meditation experts. We practice it all the time in everyday matters.
With our first child still fresh in the womb, our mind imagines the new bedroom. We picture fresh paint, where the crib fits best, the changing table and rocker. We envision our future life—nursing, teaching soccer, and Christmas mornings—and it changes us today.
We take a truth—our wife’s bulging belly—and consider with our mind and heart. We let the thoughts of our mind mix with the meditations of our heart. And something inside is stirred.
Christian meditation is like that. Unlike eastern meditation—which empties its mind—we fill our mind with a truth, examine it, let it examine us, and in that meditative mix, God speaks.
Theophan the Recluse (a household name to be sure) said, “To [meditate] is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.”
How does this work in day-to-day life?
A common Christian prayer time involves scripture study and worship (sprinkled liberally with confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and a Christian book or two).
Our study tends to be information gathering (which is good) while our worship is an expression of our spirit and heart (which is also good). Sometimes the move from study to worship feels like shifting from first to fourth gear. We need to link scripture study with worship.
Meditation is that bridge.
Here is what I do. I usually read an Old Testament passage, a Gospel, and a New Testament letter. (Right now I’m reading 2 Kings, Mark, and 1 Corinthians.) As I read the passage (and slow is better than fast), I wait—I remain alert—for a quickening in my heart.
I’m not sure how else to describe it, maybe a stirring in my spirit or just a sense of God. The two on the road to Emmaus said, “Were not our hearts burning within us.” That works.
When stirring begins, I stop reading and meditate on the verses. I ask myself questions like,
- What does this truth say about God? Why would God even say it?
- What would my life look like if I believed it were true?
- Why did this passage make me curious? What stirred that curiosity?
- How does my culture twist, distort, or reject this? How has culture affected me?
- Why don’t I really believe this; or, to what degree do I doubt it?
- How does this truth—if it’s really true—make me love God more?
- What do I need to change in my thinking or actions to align myself with its truth?
I begin by analyzing the idea presented; but after a time, I move from analyzing the text to gazing at God. I move from word-ful thinking to word-less admiration. Jordan Aumann wrote, “Contemplation signifies knowledge accompanied by delight that arouses admiration and captivates the soul” (slightly edited).
It doesn’t happen the same way every day, and certainly not with the same intensity. Some days I’m stirred by verses in the first passage, and I skip the other passages. Other days I finish all the passages, I ask myself which stirred me the most, and I return to that. And gaze.
The safest—and smartest—place to learn to discern God’s voice is in scriptural meditation. But once we begin to recognize his voice, we hear it all over the place, in a movie, on a billboard, through a friend, from a stranger on a bus. And we meditate with similar questions.
But we don’t stop there. Once we hear God speak, we share it. The best way to know something is to express it; with your spouse, friend, colleague, or with that stranger on the bus. We began with our mind, we descend into our hearts, and with our mind again we articulate with words the wordless vision of God.
This blog is mostly my expressions of my meditations. I take vague stirrings in my heart, often simple curiosities, and meditate and express them. Sometimes it leads to confession, sometimes to question the world’s influence on Christians, and sometimes to purer worship.
Though I’ll be sure to let you know if the neigh of my horse starts to sound like Shakespeare.
Sam (the aspiring recluse)