I am not long back from Italy, and boy, can Italians talk!
Sitting by the pool surrounded by different nationalities lying quietly sunbathing or reading, one Italian family stood out. There was a constant stream of chatter between them all – lively, animated, hands-included conversation. It was fascinating to watch and listen! It challenged me as to my level of conversation with God. Am I as easy in his company, ready to chatter and tell him everything? It also challenged me about how well I listen to God. The matriarch of the group seemed to do the bulk of the talking, and no one else could get a word in edgeways! She wasn’t too good a listener. Am I – particularly when it comes to listening for God’s voice?
There are loads of stories in the Bible about God speaking to people: he spoke to Adam and Eve, Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David, Elijah… the list goes on. Yet at Go Conference last October, one of the thorny questions that came up over and over again was this whole idea of God speaking today.
How do I feel God speaking to me?
Why is it that God speaks to some and not others?
Why do some people always hear words from you and I don’t?
When can I be sure it is God speaking to me and not my own imagination?
Great questions! Take a minute and think: how would you answer?
Our first answer is probably to say, “God speaks through the Bible”, and that is true. But what does that look like in everyday life? How do we hear God through the pages of the Bible? Here’s a wee example from something that happened to me recently.
In my church housegroup we had finished our studies in Philippians and there was one group meeting left before the summer, so we decided to study the wee book of Philemon. As we studied it, we thought what it might be like to be Onesimus, returning to a master he had run away from. We explored what it would look like to be a Philemon, welcoming back someone who had done us wrong. Finally, we thought about Paul’s role in this process: being the mediator, paving the way for a smooth reunion between the two.
Study over, the next day I woke up troubled, and a family fall out came to mind. Immediately it was as though God put a lightbulb on in my brain: this was exactly the same kind of situation as I had been reading about the night before, and God wanted me to do something about it! He wanted me to be a Paul, and try to bring reconciliation. In trepidation, I made a phone call. It was met with a good reception, and encouragements from me to say sorry, ask for forgiveness and move on were welcomed. The response was literally, “you were meant to phone: I have been miserable about the fall out, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Now I had no thought of making a phone call prior to that Bible study: the idea to do so wasn’t my imagination. God had used his word to challenge me, and the Holy Spirit troubled me until I did something about it. That’s what it looks like to hear God speak through the Bible!