One of the things that happens when you run is that you run past people you know. Generally, this is people from my neighbourhood innocently strolling along only to be confronted read by a sweaty, red faced version of me with thumbs up. In this situation I probably see them first. Other times, though it’s someone driving past me. In these situations I am generally alerted by a disembodied voice shouting my name as they whizz past. I am often left none the wiser as to who it was.
I might not have seen them but they were there. What about the times though when it’s just you?
Hearing voices has generally been viewed as a sign of madness. It is the case that there are mental illnesses where people hear disturbing or multiple voices and need support to deal with that but all of us have constant thought echoes rattling around our heads – it’s what makes us human. Our consciousness gives us a unique ability to reflect, put simply, we think about stuff all the time. While that’s normal we can be a bit nervous about talking about how we deal with this internal dialogue in case we sound a bit odd.
The reality is that our thoughts shape our decisions, which drive our lives. There is plenty in life we cannot control but the way we think and react affects how things will turn out. These days it may not sound too wacky to think about our thinking (many of us have massive periods of self-analysis) but people get more uneasy when we talk about hearing the voice of God.
A friend told me a story recently about a social situation with their partner. Something happened that they could have taken the wrong way. They told me that their normal response would have been to go instantly ballistic. Instead they sought God’s voice. They prayed to Jesus in their time of need and listened. They felt that God was speaking to them about how to react in the moment. They kept their head, they calmed down and later when the situation needed to be unpicked it was all explained and defused pretty quickly.
The Bible talks about speaking through a still, small voice. If we are open to listen, God will often break in with a word of insight that will help things go better. In my experience this is generally a thought that cuts in and changes perspective.
I remember about half way through my time at University when I was mulling what to do when I’d finished my degree. I thought about youth work, which I’d done before and I lined up some volunteering that summer in Luton through someone I’d worked with in Bristol, thinking it might open up future opportunities. I was walking to University one day when I felt God say very clearly ‘stay here until I tell you to go somewhere else’. It came from nowhere. It was completely unambiguous so I cancelled the youth work plans. I’ve never considered leaving since. Sheffield has become home and I’ve been hugely blessed here.
As I frequently bang on about I believe we are made to need God and to need others. I repeat the point because it is countercultural. It may not seem ‘normal’ to seek God’s voice but our society’s version of normal is generally self-reliance that builds stress and isolation.
I grew up in a church, which believed that God does speak but only through the Bible. The problem with this is that it leads to a Christian version of the same self-reliant spirit, where we try and handle the detail of life according to our own wisdom and strength. I believe that the Bible is the word of God and any new word needs to be consistent with it but I also believe Jesus is the living word and he still speaks today.
The million dollar question of course is how do we know its God speaking? After Ben died I was very wary of any sort of prophecy because we thought we’d heard that Ben would be okay. Sometimes people just get it wrong, God offers community to listen together, to weigh things up and work them through.
I’ve had to reflect on my theology, a theology that meant I hadn’t been willing to listen to anything before that didn’t fit it. If we are only willing to hear one answer, we’re not really listening. I think it’s one of the things I’ve got a bit better at.
When God speaks there may be challenge but it is always borne out of love and should lead towards a place of peace. Above all God wants us to hear that he loves us and will never leave us.