This past Sunday, I preached about learning how to discern the voice of God in our lives. You can hear the sermon here but I wanted to distill it for you in this post as well.
This is a tricky subject as many people have used and still use God to promote their own agendas. Though Adolf Hitler’s true religious views are unknown, he presented himself as a devout Christian and convinced thousands of others that it was God’s will that the Jews and non-Aryans should be wiped off of this earth to create a new, purified order.
To give a more light-hearted example, I remember hearing from several friends back in my former evangelical, conservative Christian days that God had told them that a person they were attracted to was going to be their future spouse. I may have said such things myself. Of course, none of these people ever became our spouses.
But it is also true that there are many times when our inclinations, yearnings, visions, dreams and revelations feel different in kind than others. They feel like messages from above and have a holy nature to them.
The question is, how do we determine which is which? Which ones are holy and which ones are ours? The latter isn’t bad. Many times, our authentic inner voice is the expression of the holy living within us. The trouble comes when we misinterpret our anxieties, fears, or fanciful imaginings as divine truth when actually, they’re the voice of our undeveloped shadow selves presenting themselves as our authentic selves.
I remember asking this question, “how can I discern God’s voice,” to one of my spiritual mentors when I was in the nascent stages of my faith. She responded to my question with another question, which was so simple yet profound. She asked, “if you were to have a blindfold on in a crowded room, would you be able to identify your mom’s voice if she called your name?” To which I responded, “yes, of course.” And then I got it.
Sometimes, we just know. It’s a knowing that’s unwavering and instinctual. One of my favorite and most treasured experiences of hearing from God is described in this post.
Here’s the thing though. I can only identify my mom’s voice because I have a relationship with her. I wouldn’t be able to discern her voice in a crowded room if I’ve never spoken to her in my life. It’s only because I’ve spent so much time with her and had millions of conversations with her that I can pick out her voice from all the others in an instant.
And so it is with our God, who, as the famous United Church of Christ slogan goes, is still speaking to all of us today, ready to guide us when we need guidance, comfort us when are grieving and to rejoice with us when we are celebrating.
We strengthen that relationship with God through regular spiritual practices. As we engage in these spiritual practices regularly, we tune in to spirit and hear when God calls our name.
I must admit there are still times when even I, an ordained minister, still struggle to discern God’s voice versus my ego’s. And that’s when I engage in more intense, long-term practices, a common one being a 30-day discernment period. I set aside 30 days to pray and discern about a particular decision I am confused about. For each of those 30 days, I begin each morning with this simple prayer: “Dear God, I know you’re supporting me even though I have a lot of doubt and many times, I can’t see your support. Please guide me towards the right decision that is for the good of all.” And then I remain watchful during the entire 30 days for insights, signs, convictions, dreams and any other kind of messages that come to me.
These kinds of spiritual practices, both big and small, make us much more receptive and attuned to the voice of God.
God is speaking to all of us, every single day. Sometimes through grand visions, sometimes through sheer silence. May we open up our hearts, eyes, and ears to receive that love, guidance and support.