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A God Who is Not Silent

"The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel! Samuel!' Then Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'" --1 Samuel 3:10

In this reflection, I would like to draw attention to one of the traits of the Lord that, often, we either take for granted or do not think about at all. We are in relationship with a Lord Who communicates with us. British commentator Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote, “All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks. The art of life is to get the message.” Throughout history, civilizations have worshiped gods who appeared to be silent or inscrutable to their followers. The only manner by which these people related to these false gods was through flattery or reciprocity—“we do something for our gods with the expectation that they will respond to help us.” It was sort of a religious bargain void of any kind of intimacy or relationship. Sadly, sometimes Christians approach the Lord in the same way.

But the Scripture shows us that we serve a God Who is very different from this pagan misunderstanding. Yes, the Lord is mysterious and it is sometimes hard to know what He is saying to us. ("The secret things belong to the Lord our God"--Deuteronomy 29:29) His mystery assures us that He is more powerful than our own intellect and more capable to take care of us than our own ability to do so. At the same time, the Bible teaches us that the Lord is speaking to us all the time in many ways. In creation itself, the Lord speaks to us. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1) Indeed, the Lord spoke the world into existence, as described in the first chapters of Genesis, and called all that He had made "good." In the first chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus is identified as the "Word" of God and His life spoke volumes to us about the nature and grace of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And of course, the Scripture itself is testament to the fact that the Lord communicates with us; God the Holy Spirit is the One Who continues to speak to us all the time through that Word. "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)

The Lord speaks to different audiences. He speaks to nations (for example Isaiah 14-21), to churches (for example the Corinthian letters, Philippians, Romans as well as the first three chapters of the book of Revelation), and to individuals, starting with Adam and Eve, then Noah, on through Abraham and Moses to Augustine and Martin Luther and beyond. And He speaks to you and to me, too. What He says will always be consistent with the Scripture, His Word, that God breathed into existence. (2 Timothy 3:16) And in harmony with His Word, and often using the Scripture, I believe that the Lord will speak to each of us intimately, specifically and in a profoundly impactful way. I believe that this last sentence is at the heart of what the Lord wants me to share with you in this reflection. Because of who God is and because of how much He loves us, He will speak very personally and powerfully to each of us. All we have to do is believe He has something to say to us and to be willing to adopt a posture of listening.

I would like to share two very poignant examples, to me, of the Lord speaking in an intimate, specific and impactful way. Because of all of the legitimate concern over the spread of the coronavirus in late February and early March of 2020, it looked like my final Campus Ministry mission trip to India might be cancelled at the last moment. In fact, the weekend before we left, I asked each of the members of the team traveling with me to discuss the trip with their parents and get back to me by Monday (we were leaving on Thursday) with a decision as to whether they still wanted to make the trip. Every single person responded, after talks with their families, that they had a peace about going and they believed it was the Lord's will for us to go. Even so, the university was considering travel restrictions as we were minutes away from Chicago's O'Hare airport. I called back to the school one last time and got the green light for the team to get on the airplane.

As I settled into my seat on the plane, with a 14 hour flight ahead of us to Abu Dhabi (UAE) where we could catch another plane to India, I was physically and emotionally exhausted from all that had happened in the days leading up to our departure. All I could do was close my eyes and just tell the Lord how tired I was and how very much I needed Him to protect and bless our team. At that moment, I sensed the Lord speak to my heart, not with an audible voice, but very clearly, these words: "This trip is My gift to you." I reflected on what I believed I had just heard and realized, with tears in my eyes, that it meant two things. First, it was a word for the whole team. God was saying He was going to give each team member a special gift at some point on the trip and that He wanted us to unwrap it in prayer and thanksgiving. I shared this thought with the team shortly after we arrived in India and they remained expectant throughout the week. But second, and this was the emotional part for me, God knew that this would be the last Campus Ministry mission trip that I would ever lead and He preserved it as a farewell gift to me. Little did I know, but God did, that the trip would also be the very last "in person" ministry event I would ever enjoy with Campus Ministry students. I will never forget that moment with the Lord on that airplane and I will treasure it for the rest of my life.

The second example of God speaking in a personal and profound way also occurred on that trip. I was in India with my team of students when President Trump announced a travel ban from Europe to the United States. At that point, I was uncertain about how that declaration would impact our travel home. I called our travel agent and she reassured me that, since we were not traveling through Europe on the way back to the U.S., our flights should leave on schedule. Nonetheless, I was worried and even fearful for the welfare of our team. I tossed and turned during the night but eventually fell asleep. While sleeping, I had a very strange dream. I dreamed that the students on the trip were playing keep away from each other with a football. The dream was extremely vivid so it was still on my mind when I awakened. I prayed and asked the Lord what that dream was all about. Again, I sensed the Lord clearly saying, not in an audible voice, but to my spirit, that the dream was an assurance that He would "keep our team away" from the virus, and any other problems, all the way home. And He did. No one got sick throughout the entire experience. God was true to His word--and I praise Him with all my heart for His protection.

Hearing God's voice requires, at minimum, two things. First, as I wrote above, you have to believe that He will still speak to us. The words I believe God spoke to me in these two examples do not carry the same weight or validity as Scripture; the Bible is the authoritative Word and any personal words we attribute to the Lord must line up with Scripture. Indeed, the words I heard God say reflect portions of the Bible in which God is recognized as the Giver of good gifts and the One Who will protect and heal us. But there is a life-transforming power released when we ask the Lord to speak to us personally and specifically, in the form of encouragement, warning or direction--and He does so by His Spirit through His Word.

Second, we need to learn to hear His voice by adopting a posture of listening. And that can take time. It does in most relationships. After over 25 years of marriage, Janet has ways of speaking to me even without words that I have learned to hear (although I don't listen to her nearly as well as I should!) Relationships teach us how to communicate. So it makes sense that as we spend time praying, reading the Bible and meditating on its Truth, practicing the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude as well as talking to other Christians, we will learn how to discern the voice of the Lord intimately, specifically and profoundly. We may get it wrong sometimes, but even that will be a learning experience to fine tune our listening posture. Even when churches gather, patterns of worship should be pursued that allow God to speak to His people in multiple ways in real time. But that is a reflection for another day.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You have chosen to speak to us from the beginning of time. We just want to be able to hear Your voice clearly. But more, would You give us the grace to respond in obedience to whatever You say? Especially now, would You communicate vividly what You want to say to us personally and collectively through all the challenges we face each and every day? We don't want to miss anything that You want us to understand. Turn the heart of this nation and this world back to You, helping us all to acknowledge You are real and that You are speaking to us. Help us to listen and to obey. We need You! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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