First Mennonite Church
August 12, 2018
Discerning the Voice of God
Text: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
It does not take long before we learn to identify the voices of family members, friends, and other people with whom we spend considerable time. The way we learn to identify particular voices is perfectly illustrated by newborn babies.
An online article from the American Academy of Family Physicians says that babies are intrigued by their parents’ voices, raising their curiosity to learn. Babies are also comforted and assured by their mother’s voice when the baby feels insecure. Babies are also encouraged and charged by listening to their parents’ voices. And they respond with enthusiastic movement of their little arms and legs. The American Pregnancy Association even says that babies seem to adore their mother’s voice or words. They fix their gaze on their mother’s face like wanting to reach out to her. And they respond with their typical baby sounds and cooing. Babies are fascinated when their parents tenderly and engagingly speak to them. They respond with smiles and squirms even though they do not understand what the mother is saying.
It is said that by the fourth month a baby clearly recognizes the voice of her or his mother. If the mother calls the baby’s name while she cannot be seen by the baby, the baby’s eyes pop wide open and the baby begins searching for the mom. It is not only fascinating to see how that happens but it clearly demonstrates the powerful effect of the close relationship between mom and baby. The baby’s constancy, attentiveness, and joyful willingness to bond with her mother causes the baby to develop a keen sense at distinguishing her mother’s voice.
Not only babies learn to identify their mother’s voice. Mothers also learn to identify their children’s voices. They can identify the voices of their children even amidst the chatter of a bunch of other kids on the playground.
Again, if children learn to discern the voice of their parents, shouldn’t we as God’s children also learn to discern the voice of God? Yes, we should. In John 10, Jesus says, “The shepherd enters the sheep pen and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10).
Today, I would like for us to reflect on how the worship service can help us sharpen our soul’s listening capacity to hear the voice of God. The worship service provides us with the proper context in which we can and should hear God speaking to us. God spoke and continues to speak, if only we desire to hear his voice. We should develop the ability of discerning God’s voice.
The calling of Samuel is a good example. Samuel was still a baby when Hannah, his mother, took him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Eli was the priest and became the mentor of Samuel. The Bible says that at that time the word of the Lord was scarce. God was not speaking as often as before and visions were rare. And then one night when the lights were not yet gone out and while Samuel was in bed, the Lord called, “Samuel, Samuel.” The young boy ran to his mentor and said, “Here I am!” Eli said to the boy, “I have not called you. Go back to sleep.” It was not until the third calling of Samuel that Eli realized it must be God who was calling the boy. The text plainly says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Yet, over the course of Samuel’s prophetic ministry he developed an unparalleled sensitivity at distinguishing God’s voice. He discerned God’s voice when he was sent to anoint Saul and David. But he was also keen at distinguishing God’s grieving heart when the people rejected God as their king and demanded to have a human king as the other nations did (1Sam. 8:7).
The entire Bible is testimony of God’s desire to communicate with his people. The prologue of John’s gospel is very revealing as to this desire. John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John demonstrates that it is the nature of God to disclose his will, his thoughts, and his very being. Words are means through which we express our thoughts. And according to John, God began expressing himself through the spoken word. And it is not hard to make the connection between John’s prologue and Genesis chapter one. The first words in Genesis are identical to John’s prologue: In the beginning God. . . . And just a few line below, we begin to hear God’s voice: And God said . . . and it was so. God spoke and the world came into existence. God’s word engraved the order of the created world and the essence of human life—“in his image and in his very likeness.” God’s grand witness of his spoken word abides in the beauty and mystery of our world and universe, from the gigantic blue whale to the microscopic cell. The power of his word continues to operate. The order of the natural world is testimony of the ever-living spoken word of God. Every time we hear or read about scientific findings we marvel at God’s fascinating creation. The great American Christian preacher, author, and spiritual mentor A. W. Tozer when writing about the different responses between a Christian and a scientist at the marvel of God’s creation, he says: They both kneel down. The Christian kneels down to worship, but the scientist bows down to continue looking for more clues.”
The question for today is, how do we distinguish the voice of God in the worship service? How do we discern what God is trying to tell us? If we are to respond obediently to the warning in Hebrews: If you hear his voice do not harden your heart, it is crucial that we get to hear God’s voice when he speaks.
Sometimes following an “order of worship” can be a hindrance to hearing the voice of God. Yet, with this I am not advocating that we should get rid of our bulletins. What I mean is that one of the very reasons we have a program is because we want to be in control of what happens here. Yet, the unintended consequence is that we get used to going over a program when our ultimate goal should be to commune with God and to experience God communing with us. Yes, during the worship service we speak to God in songs and prayers. We speak about God in testimony of what he has done, but we should also expect to hear God speaking to us. You see, in our bulletin there is no place where it says, Guest speaker: God. The worst case is when we look at our bulletin and wish we can get through with it sooner than 12noon. The bulletin is a wise way to stay in course for this short hour, but it might not always be conducive to sharpening our sensitivity to the voice of God. How would you react if at this moment I stop speaking and ask you to take a minute of silence as ask God to search your thoughts? What if we all take a minute and prayerfully reflect on that nagging thought you felt like as coming from God? Will you be afraid we might become disorderly or too unpredictable? If you bow your head in prayer while I preach will you not wonder I might think you are dossing off, and so you would not dare give that impression?
How does God speak to us while we worship together? God speaks in various ways. Some of you were here for Sunday school. That means you reflected on a passage and shared your thoughts and ways you thought it speaks to your daily lives. You attempted to hear the voice of God in the words shared by those around the discussion table. We just finished our coffee break time. With whom did you speak during this time? Did you express joy at the good news someone shared with you? That is heeding the word of God. Did you offer to pray for the concern of somebody else? Did you make the first song a personal prayer to God?
God speaks to us through the songs we sing if we put our heart when singing them. God speaks to us about the needs of the world, through prayer requests or request for help as that of MCC today.
How has the Lord spoken to you today? What did he tell you? Here is the reminder of Hebrews:
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts . . . .
May the Spirit of God sensitize our soul’s listening ability. May we surrender our will to God every time he speaks to us. Amen!
(Was read by Dennis Toevs in absence of Pastor)
http://oureverydaylife.com/newborns-recognize-parents-voices (Friday, October 7, 2016)
 See: The Pursuit of God, Updated Edition by A. W. Tozer, (Harrisburg Aneko Press, 2015) 63.