Life is full of voices these days. Even in silence voices speak to us from computer screens, smart phones, tablets and print. Cable news networks have unending voices, all of them telling you the country is falling apart in various degrees of partisan opinion. Digital music, movies and TV are everywhere. TV was a gathering place for the family once upon a time, now you can watch it on your wrist. As a society we’ve become immune to voices. One more opinion, one more instafact, one more twitterful. Sadly, voices are so abundant, we mistake silence for abnormality.
Some years ago I received some counsel from a wise and trusted friend on knowing Jesus’ voice. He used the verse in John, “My sheep know my voice and they will follow no other”. He further shared that at the time Jesus spoke these words there was no official Bible for Christians to follow so Jesus probably meant his actual voice, rather than Scripture. My friend was not a follower of dispensationalism, still isn’t.
Now lest you jump to the conclusion that I’m an oooky-spooky type, I assure you I am not. I don’t look for signs or a hidden meaning with every unexplained coincidence. I’m not the type to find a demon lurking behind every illness or misbehavior. And I’m not someone who interprets my dreams on a daily basis. I tend to go out of my way to find reasonable explanations for coincidences in life. One of my pet peeves is hearing unbelievers use the phrase “Nothing happens by chance”, as a way of crediting a benevolent source for the good coincidences that happen in their lives. Sometimes things just happen, good and bad. And holy coincidences belong to believers, not heathens, thank you very much!
So back to the voice verse. It challenged me to hear my friend teach this. What I knew about people hearing Jesus’ voice usually resulted in, not wearing your eyeglasses anymore because Jesus said he was going to heal your vision. Or teachings that led to my father claiming, God wanted to control the size of his family (numerically, not height and weight). I was reluctant to ask Jesus to speak to me, I didn’t want to end up weird.
My friend encouraged me to listen for him to speak, even prayed for me to receive words of strength and comfort. So, I asked Jesus to speak to me, pretty much begged him. My heart was hurting at the time and I needed words. What I really wanted was someone with skin but knowing that wasn’t going to happen soon I’d settle for some words. It took a few days but he quietly spoke, at a time I least expected it, when I was doing something completely mundane…getting milk from the fridge. The words were simple and poignant, causing me to cry with thankfulness. They changed me forever and brought peace.
As this voice adventure grew Jesus gave me a living illustration that reinforced his way of speaking. When Janette was young, about 6 or 7, we were grocery shopping one evening during Christmas season. The store was crowded. Holiday music drifted from the loudspeakers and the aisles were cramped with harried shoppers. Children were rowdy, giving their poor parents interesting little snafus to manage, along with their lists of seasonal food items to track down. It was a challenge just to hear average conversation. Janette rode on the end of the cart, I know, it wasn’t safe but she could hop off and grab things while I crossed them off my list. She was well behaved so I didn’t stress over the infraction and we had fun.
Janette had a passion for all things baby at this age. She owned several special baby dolls and adored real ones. Just ahead of us were a mother and her baby. This baby was darling and must have recently learned to sit up in a cart. He was fascinated by the bright colors and couldn’t wait to see his mother’s face every time she looked down at him, his grin was brilliant. Always on the lookout for things to make my own kids smile, I spoke to Janette who was facing away from me. I simply said, “Look over there” and her gaze went directly to this mother and baby. Her happiness at seeing this little guy melted me, and right then I heard, “That’s how I speak”. Immediately I realized that what I did for Janette was exactly what Jesus wanted to continue to do for me. He wanted me to know his voice so well that I would recognize it immediately in spite of the cacophony of other voices surrounding me. It gave him joy to know I heard him.
As I grew in my need and ability to listen and hear Jesus’ voice, it grew more familiar and habitual. I sought and desired it often for its ability to resolve the conflicting choices and paths before me. At one point, when facing a serious surgical option, I sought his voice and heard him say “Trust your doctors”, something I wasn’t prone to do at that time. I happened to be folding clothes. While the outcome of that decision was anything but easy, I’ve never doubted it was the right choice.
I recently watched, for the gazillionth time, You’ve God Mail. I love the scene where Tom Hanks is using The Godfather to give business advice. Being a fan of all things Godfather, I loved hearing those lines re-purposed. “What to pack?”, “Leave the gun, take the cannolli.” has to be my favorite. This is how I see us using the Bible at times. Disagree with your parents? “Honor your father and mother”. Daughter dating a non believer? “Don’t be unequally yoked”. It’s the Godfather approach for applying Scripture to life. Being the recipient of that approach always left me feeling condemned. I never understood why until I learned to hear his voice, then it dawned on me. It lacks…intimacy.
Intimacy is one of those words that needs to be retrieved from pop culture and rightfully reestablished in the church. True intimacy requires no nudity but it knows what you look like naked and sees you as beautiful. True intimacy invites deep personal confidences and isn’t degrading when they are shared. True intimacy corrects without belittling, teaches without patronizing and convicts without exaggerating. The words spoken in intimacy are powerful, sharp, simple and profound. They need no emphasis, the words themselves are enough. They are complete.
With Bibles freely roaming the streets of America, unread and probably used for scrap paper, American Christians neglecting its study are shameful. However, studying Scripture can’t replace intimacy with Jesus. Sheep mingled with their shepherd day and night. They knew his smell, his touch, his expressions and his voice. It was during the daily, repetitive tasks of herd life that he spoke to them. Leading, feeding, and caring for them throughout their travels. They knew that at his hand was provision, safety, comfort, rescue and peace. He was their first resource in need and their main companion for the journey.
He was the mother of the grocery cart.