A mathematician with too much time on his hands has figured out that there are more than 177,000 ways to knot a tie. I may have twisted myself into nearly as many tangles by trying to figure out how to listen for the voice of God in the midst of my daily life. The problem has always been how to separate the voice of God from all the other messages swimming around inside my head.
One of the good things about aging is that it becomes easier to relax into the questions. Perplexity turns into mystery and mystery turns into something you can live with and, at times, even embrace. You can do this because you have learned two amazing things. That God is completely good, entirely without shadows, and that he is your Father. Because of this, you realize that he will never hide something from you that you really need to know. What good father would welcome a child into his family and then stop speaking to that child?
Plus you know the Scripture. You remember that Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) One of the best decisions I ever made was to read the Bible regularly—even when it put me to sleep or raised troubling questions or seemed impossible to comprehend. The more I read it, the more frequently I heard God speaking through its pages. It’s as though he and I began to live in the same spiritual country, sharing a common history, a common language, a common geography.
So many times, God has drawn close through a story or passage from the Bible. Suddenly, something I have read many times takes on a new and startling meaning. Over and over, God surprises, encourages, guides, challenges, enlightens, and refreshes me with his Word. He pours his life into me.
I have no idea what the precise mechanism for this is. How is it possible that such an ancient book, encrusted with the detritus of centuries, can become a bridge to God? The only thing that makes sense to me is that when you and I come into relationship with Jesus, God embeds himself in us. He makes our souls, broken and bruised as they are, his home.
One way of understanding the Holy Spirit is to think of him as God embedded within us. Of course that doesn’t mean that we are God or that he is confined to our small hearts, but only that he indwells us. As such, he can shape, guide, speak to us, and even “translate” Scripture for us. He is intimately involved in our lives. The more we open ourselves to him, the more freedom, joy, and life we will experience, even though we may need to pass through some pain in order to experience these.
Another good decision I made early on was to never read the Bible in isolation, as though it were just God and me reading it together. Instead, I always read it in community, surrounded by wise friends who could help me understand it and keep me from falling into error. I’m not talking about being part of a Bible study group, though that can be a wonderful experience. I’m talking about surrounding myself with books and study Bibles that have been written by biblical scholars who are not only competent in their fields of study but who love God and believe the Bible is his Word.
Over the years, I have learned that the secret to hearing God’s voice is not that complicated. No need to tie ourselves in knots about it. Instead, it’s rather obvious. God wants to speak to us and will speak to us because we are his children. One of the main ways—though not the only way—he speaks is through the Bible. If you want to hear God’s voice more clearly and more frequently, read the Bible regularly, surround yourself with “wise friends,” and expect God to speak to you because you are his beloved child.
Speaking of wise friends, you can find some in the new NIV Faithlife Study Bible, which is a feast for the mind and heart.