In the last couple of years I've thought a lot about listening for the voice of God, especially in matters of discernment. I’m convinced that most of us don’t recognize God speaking to us because we don’t know him well enough to recognize his voice. Let me illustrate.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with celebrities. Most people would be hard pressed to name ten world leaders, yet we can name countless celebrities along with the songs they sing and the acting roles they’ve played. Among the world’s celebrities there are a few that we as individuals latch onto. They become our favorite celebrities, and while we don’t join an “official” fan club, we still know everything there is to know about them. We know the names of their kids, where they were recently spotted on vacation, what kind of dog they own, what kind of childhood they had (thanks to Oprah–another celebrity), and a whole ton of other things about them. In many ways we act as if we “know” them.
However, in spite of knowing all these things about them, most of us would not recognize their voice if they called us on the phone (unless of course it was Morgan Freeman). You may have seen every movie they were ever in, read every article written about them, and watched every interview they’ve ever done. Yet, if they called your phone today it is extremely unlikely that you would recognize their voice.
Suppose I answer my phone today and there is a woman’s voice on the other end of the line and she simply says, “Mark.” I am absolutely 100% positive that I will correctly recognize that woman's voice if it is my wife calling. If, on the other hand, Tom Cruise calls me and simply says, “Mark,” I’m certain that I will say, “Who is calling?” Yes, I’ve seen Risky Business, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, all the Mission Impossibles, etc., but that doesn’t mean anything. I know my wife–I know about Tom Cruise.
I believe most Christians know about the celebrity Jesus. They’ve read a lot about him and they’ve seen a lot of his performances (from a distance), but they don’t know him as an intimate friend. They can tell you what major events occurred in his life and what things he’s said to others, but they don’t know him as one whose voice is recognizable whether it is loud and direct or soft and intimate. The result is that we often miss him when he calls. When the moment presents itself for us to respond to his voice, we are unsure whether or not it is actually him on the other end of the line…”Lord, surely that can’t really be you?!”
In order to know a celebrity and not just know about them, you have to be friends with them. Christians are in desperate need of rediscovering Jesus as a friend (John 15:15) and not a celebrity. As with any friendship, this can only come through countless hours spent together, talking and listening in the midst of sharing in each other’s lives.
How are you cultivating a friendship with Jesus? How are you learning to listen to him? How are you spending time alone with him? Will you recognize him when he calls?
As my friend Chuck Miller says, “Prayer is not something you do; it is someone you’re with."
I want to help you learn how to pray. In other words, I want to help you learn how to be with Jesus. I'll be leading a workshop on listening to God at the upcoming Truly Human Gathering (May 7-9). In this workshop we will discuss how creating a listening posture in prayer is crucial to cultivating deep intimacy with Jesus–and therefore crucial to being truly human.
I hope to see you there!