Imagine for a moment a marriage relationship where the husband and the wife live on separate floors of the same house, the wife lives upstairs and the husband lives downstairs. The husband goes about his everyday life, but he never sees his wife. He knows that she loves him. There are some old love letters that she sent to him years ago and he reads a portion of one of those letters nearly every day. He can call her on his cell phone anytime and he knows that she hears him. But she never says anything in return.
The husband longs to be able to hear his wife’s voice. He wishes that they could live on the same floor of the house and share their lives together in a deeper, more intimate way. He wishes that they could sit down together and talk, back and forth, sharing what’s in their hearts and minds with each other so that they could grow to know each other better and experience a shared love and a shared life.
What assessment would we give of a marriage like that? We would say that there is something wrong in the marriage and it would seem to us to be a cold, empty relationship. And yet that is what a relationship with God is like for many people. They know about God from the Bible and they know that God loves them. They pray to God and they know that God hears them. But they don’t hear from God in return and they experience little or nothing of God’s love in their everyday life. Their relationship with God seems cold and empty.
And this is a problem because the Bible describes our relationship with God in a much different way. The Bible describes the relationship between Jesus and those who follow him as being like the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. A shepherd protects the sheep from danger and enemies. A shepherd makes sure that the sheep have enough nourishing food to eat and sufficient clean water to drink. But Middle Eastern agricultural practices are very different than ours are in North America. There a shepherd does not keep the sheep penned up for 24 hours a day and bring fresh food and clean water to the sheep like we sometimes do here. And in the Middle East a shepherd does not use a dog to herd the sheep from pasture to pasture as is done in Australia and New Zealand. In the Middle East, sheep may be penned up for safety at night. But during the day, the shepherd directs his or her sheep, not with barriers and not with force, but with his or her voice. The shepherd talks to the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd because they know the voice of the shepherd. In John chapter 10 we read these words from Jesus, 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:2-4)
Note the closeness of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep: “He calls his own sheep by name” the Bible tells us. Also notice the importance of the voice of the shepherd is in this biblical word picture. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. As soon as that gate opens in the morning, the sheep are listening for the sound of that voice. When the shepherd speaks, the sheep listen to what the shepherd says and they follow the shepherd wherever he leads them because he speaks to them and they know his voice.
Our passion and purpose here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church is to see people know and make known God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we understand that word “know” in both an intellectual and an experiential way. We want people to know more about God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we also want people to experience a close, personal relationship with the God who loves them infinitely and unconditionally.
So today we are starting a series called “Hearing God’s Voice” and the hope and the prayer behind this series is that it will help you to hear what God is saying to you and, as a result, help you to go deeper in your relationship with God. This series is based on the book Hearing God’s Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby and we will reflect on this topic this Sunday and next, then we will take a break for a few weeks for Advent and Christmas and then pick up the series again in the New Year.
Now sometimes when people hear someone speak about hearing directly from God they get nervous. And the reason for that anxiety is that there are instances where people have claimed to hear from God and it has led to bad results. Sometimes people have claimed that God has told them that it is okay for them to have an affair or swindle someone out of a large sum of money because God told them that it was okay. There are people who, in the midst of a psychosis, have heard what they think is the voice of God and have committed a terrible crime under the direction of that voice. There are religious leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh who claimed to hear new revelation from God, and the result was the destruction of many, many lives, including their own. And so, it is necessary that I share with you an important distinction which is from the book Hearing God’s Voice: “When God speaks, he does not give a new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life.”
So I pray that this series will be a blessing to you and I want to leave you with these words from Jesus:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on November 15, 2015.)
 Henry and Richard Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 18.