Have you ever thought that “hearing the Lord’s voice” was a bunch of hogwash? Do you wonder how people can think they know the difference between spiritual direction and their own imagination? How do they know it’s God?If you ask those questions, congratulations! You’re better off than I was. I came from a religious background that was somehow void of the whole concept of hearing His voice. To me it was a revelation that some Christians thought that way. But once I was aware, all those other questions hit.
I was at college, and I was scared. I was so shy, the only friends I had were my roommates. I went to classes and to church on campus, but I just wasn’t really having the time of my life. Finally, I met a girl down the hall who was part of a group of students who were different. They went to little country churches outside town and helped in any way they could. I started going with them.
These new friends were always surprising me. They acted kind of like they were buddies with God. I mean they talked about being “directed” to do this, or “led” to do that. They called it following the voice of the Lord, or the voice of the Spirit.
All of this was a mystery to me. I mean, sure, I had heard about the Holy Spirit, but I had never been around people who were so matter of fact about it. They acted like following the Holy Spirit was a common, ordinary, everyday thing for them. They didn’t know how strange it all seemed to me. How were they doing it? How could I hear God’s voice? How could I tell the difference between it and my own imagination? Some of my friends seemed genuine, but others seemed fake. If I was going to do it, I wanted to be real. I didn’t want to fake it, and I didn’t want to convince myself that faking it was the real thing. I had a real problem. I wanted to hear God’s voice, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it.
One day, I was going to the gym, and I was mulling it all over. Couldn’t I find someone, somewhere who could tell me how to know the difference between God’s voice and my own imaginings? Maybe one of the best preachers or maybe one of my most respected professors. But how could I be sure they knew? I mean, I could end up believing something that was just part of their imagination.The only real way I could know for sure was to learn it straight from God.
I was about to turn that down, because I knew it was ridiculous, when I was flooded with a feeling of, “Yes, that’s it. Now you’ve got it right. It’s My voice you want to hear, so let me teach you how to hear it. I’m the Master and I can teach you."I was floored. Had I just heard God’s voice? Could I learn it straight from him? Could God Himself teach me what I wanted to know? Why not? I kept right on walking, but I said a very simple prayer. I said, “OK, Lord, You teach me Your voice.”
I was awed at the prospect of God himself teaching me. How was He going to get through to me? Would He start right away? I sure hoped so. Otherwise, I might forget about the whole thing. I guess God knew that too.
I finished at the gym and on the way back to the dorm stopped by the student center to pick up my mail. I was reaching into my box, when I noticed another girl doing the same. She didn’t look friendly at all, but I had this feeling I should talk to her. Now normally, I pretty much minded my own business. I mean I was so shy that I didn’t just introduce myself to somebody and start talking with them. So this feeling I had was not coming from me. I knew that. Could it be coming from God? Or was I just so primed to hear something from God that my imagination was getting overactive? I mean this girl looked very unpleasant. She even looked mean.The expression on her face almost scared me. All these thoughts went through my mind in an instant along with this persistent feeling that argued with me and made me feel I should talk with her. Well I had asked God to teach me His voice. Maybe He was doing it already.I gathered up every bit of courage I had. Feeling rather foolish and very reckless, I spoke.
“Did you get any mail from home?" Boy, why did I say that? I sounded like a nosy snoop. I didn’t have any right to know about her mail. I’d blown it already.
The girl looked up. There was a look of surprise on her face. She looked at me and then her face began to look meaner. Or was it sad? “No, I got mail, but not from home. I don’t think they care anymore.” Then her face clouded up and tears came to her eyes.
I said, “I know what you mean. My parents must think they’re spoiling me if they write much. Maybe they’re trying to make me grow up and be independent, but it seems like everyone else gets letters and cookies and surprises from home except me.”
“Well, I sure don’t,” she said.
Together we left the student center, and walked towards the dorms.When we got to the place where all the walks separated, she and I were both headed to the same dorm.
“You’re going to Patroness?” I asked.
“Yep, I’m in the west wing?”
“Me too,” I said, “Gosh, I guess I’m a real hermit. I must have seen you, but I don’t remember it.”
“That’s OK. I’ve seen you, but you always seemed so shy that I never said anything to you.”
“Yeah, I am shy, but I’m trying not to be.”
“Well, keep trying. Today you’re doing a good job at it.”
I didn’t know what to say. Could I tell her the truth? What else could I say? “I thought the Holy Spirit was directing me to speak to you.”
“Really?” she asked with wide open eyes.
“Yeah,” I replied. I tried not to look embarrassed.
“Well, that means the Holy Spirit cares about me even if my folks don’t, right?”
So that day I found and helped a new friend, and I had my first experience with being directed by God’s voice. It had been like an experiment. I just tried responding to a pressing feeling to say something to someone. It had been scary. I had to reach outside of my normal way of acting and that was not a comfortable feeling. But when it was over, I had the results of my experiment, and it was a success. I felt like I had done something good for God. Like I had been His partner on earth. He had used me to help someone in need and it made me feel good. It made me feel great. I wanted to do it again.
There was another day when I didn’t feel so great. That was the day I turned the Lord down. I didn’t realize I was saying “no” to Him. I convinced myself it wasn’t the Lord.
Again I was returning from class. Way off in the distance a girl was carrying a pile of cardboard boxes.She was probably a hundred yards away. I got this feeling I should go to her and offer to help. I could see the boxes made an awkward burden, but I knew they weren’t really heavy. Besides, I was carrying some books myself, and she was so far away. By the time I got to her, she’d almost be to her destination. I decided not to help her. I decided this was my own imagination. I didn’t respond.
Instantly I felt all alone. Like something that had been with me had just up and left. I felt empty, deserted. All the way back to the dorm I tried to convince myself I was just being silly. But the lonely feeling stayed. I was so shy, I was used to being alone, but this was different. This was more alone than I had ever been. This time my experiment had failed. I knew the feeling of denying the Holy Ghost. When you deny the Holy Ghost, it has to leave you. It doesn’t leave to punish you. You’ve chosen to say no to It, and It can’t veto your choice. So you feel deserted and all alone.
It was a terrible feeling. I started defending myself in my mind by going over all the reasons I couldn’t have really helped the girl. But something stern answered me, and made it clear. Even if I couldn’t have really helped carry the boxes, I could have helped God do something for that person. Deep inside, I knew I had let the Lord down. I had turned down His direction, and I wanted to cry. When I got a chance to be alone I did cry, and I promised to do better.
Now many years have passed. I’m still learning to follow the Holy Spirit. Back then I thought it would be something I could learn in one or two easy lessons. Now I know it’s like a quest. As long as I keep trying to hear His voice, the Lord keeps working with me. Its a process. With time I get better at telling the difference between my own thought and the Lord’s voice. I guess that’s because I know the Lord and myself more. I understand how He operates with me, and I know my own motives, vices, and hidden secrets. Now I’m more likely to recognize a thought that comes from outside of me.No person can teach us how the Lord will work with us. He works with each of us differently. Other men and women can only tell us how God works personally with them. There is only one way for each of us to learn God’s voice, and that’s directly from Him, the Master teacher, the Master of all. Long ago I prayed the prayer, “Lord, teach me your voice.” I pray it still, and He continues to teach me. He does it for me, because I let Him, and if you let Him, He’ll do it for you.