“I hear a voice I had not known:”
Psalm 81:5c (NRSVCE)
One of the mysteries of the Great Story is that individuals in the story hear God’s voice. God speaks to individuals at various times in various ways throughout the story. In the story of a young prophet Samuel, he first hears God’s voice while a boy living with the High Priest of that time, a man name Eli. The story in 1 Samuel 3 states that it was a time when “the word of the Lord was rare” (This is another part of the mystery, that God would be silent for long periods of time).
The boy, Samuel, hears a voice call his name in the night. He repeatedly runs to the old priest saying, “Here I am!” The third time it happened, Eli begins to understand what his happening. He tells the boy, “If this happens again, respond ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!'”
My own experience with the mystery of hearing God’s voice is multi-dimensional. Four times in 40 years I have heard a very clear and distinct message spoken directly into my spirit. The first time was at the very beginning of my journey as a follower of Jesus. The next came thirteen years later. Then ten years later, and four months after that. These four experiences stand out from any others in my spiritual journey. Someday, when I’m ready to tell my story, I’ll share the experiences in full. It’s not the right time.
How do I know it’s not the right time?
I’ve learned that it is another dimension of how God’s “voice” works. As I perpetually read and study the Great Story, as I have conscious conversations with God, as I journal, and as I continuously keep myself spiritually aware and “listening,” there are things that come to me in a very different way. It has been described as “the flow.” The Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” both suggest a word picture of wind or breath. I have found no human word or phrase that adequately describes it. It’s a hearing and knowing of Spirit. There’s a knowing in my being that there will come a time for me to tell the story of the four experiences I described of distinctly hearing the Voice. Maybe there will be more experiences by the time comes to tell the story. I just know that it’s not now.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 81, is a liturgical song that would have been sung when the entire nation of Hebrews gathered for specific festivals scheduled at specific times of the year. The people are “called to worship” in the first five verses, then the rest of the song reminds them of God leading them out slavery in Egypt and what has historically happened when they shut their ears and hearts from listening to God.
It was the phrase “I hear a voice I had not known” that leapt off the page at me as I read the lyrics. I thought of Moses hearing God’s voice for the first time (Exodus 3). I thought of the boy, Samuel, hearing the voice for the first time. I thought of Peter, James, John, and Matthew hearing the voice of Jesus telling them “Follow me.” I thought of a cold February night when I first heard the voice. In every case, there was a process for the individual of learning to spiritually listen, learning to spiritually hear, and learning to spiritually discern.
In John’s revelation, Jesus tells John to write a letter to the followers of Jesus in a town called Laodicea. He writes:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….”
In each story I’ve cited today there was both the voice calling and the individual responding. That’s where theologians will tell me that I have “free will.” I can hear and dismiss. I can hear and choose to not to respond. I can even plug the ears of my spirit and choose not to hear at all.
I chose to open myself to the mystery. I chose to respond. I struck out on this journey of learning to know that voice, asking to know more, and seeking to hear more. I’ve never regretted it. Here I am, forty years later. I’m still listening, hearing, asking, and seeking in the mystery of God’s voice.