Reading: Psalm 29
SOME years ago while passing through a period of spiritual drought, I re-read this psalm and was filled again with joy and singing, and a sense of elation reminiscent of a man’s first encounter with God. I had heard the Voice of the Lord once more, and its effect was electrifying, exhilarating. Although I was not at that point aware precisely of what He was saying to me, the sound of His Voice was unmistakable.
I have little doubt that one of the primary keys in the Christian life is ‘The Voice of the Lord’. By this term I mean the communication by God, by the Holy Spirit, through His Word, of something that He wants to convey to me today. We have the complete Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and there can be no revelation beyond that. Yet we read, “Today, if you will hear His Voice … the word of God is living and active …” (Hebrews 4 RSV). The Voice of the Lord will never add to, or take from the Word of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures, but is a present application of it, in the light of immediate conditions, by a living Lord to a living people. Without it we wander aimlessly, going nowhere, or else drive furiously along the wrong road. As we hear it we seem to step into a new and living world where confusion and doubt become certainty, assurance and purpose, and there emerges in our affairs a sense of coherence.
Psalm 29 is devoted to this important subject. Perhaps David was sitting in the wilderness at flood-time, by a swollen river as it rushed through a steep and narrow gorge with thunderous roar. Tearing away some of the tall straight young cedar trees, and stripping others of their lichen-encrusted bark. Perhaps he had kindled a fire to cook his simple meal and he watched it extinguished in a moment as a sudden overflow engulfed it. And as he sat there deep in thought, a hind gave birth to a calf by the river bank as though by the surge of vital energy around her.
The New Testament refers to our being “born of water and of the Spirit” and of “washing of water with the Word”. Here is birth by the Word of the Lord, as the hind calved, and here is cleansing as the trees were stripped bare by the mountain torrent.
LEARNING TO HEAR HIS VOICE
We cannot be sure of the background to psalm 29, and all this is pure conjecture, but the importance of the Voice of the Lord is not in doubt. To the Christian it must be of first importance.
After speaking some years ago to a group of young people on this subject, I was mildly chided by a colleague, who said that recognising the Voice of the Lord was not a matter for the young but a very advanced lesson for the mature Christian. Yet recognising mother’s voice is said to be the first learning experience of the baby. Feeding and crying are instinctive and automatic, but in the very earliest days of his life the newborn begins to learn the sound of mother’s voice. Sheep are often characterised as lacking intelligence, yet they learn to distinguish the shepherd’s voice, and will not follow a stranger. Speaking of His people as sheep, Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me”. We learn to hear His voice and run to Him. Just to hear it, and know that we are in touch [50/51] with Him, is enough to turn night into day, weeping into laughter, and a mountain of problems into an insignificant molehill.
To recognise the sound of His Voice should be an early learning experience for the young Christian, but this must progress to an increasingly clear understanding of what He is saying. When God spoke from heaven in answer to His beloved Son, some thought it thundered, some said ‘an angel spoke to Him’. We have to listen carefully, for He undoubtedly has things to say to us. These are days in which we need clear direction regarding the present and the future; we need to have ‘understanding of the times’ and to know what God’s people ought to do.
THE HEARING EAR
Going on to psalm 33 — “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. For He spake and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast” (vv.6 & 9). Here is a phenomenon of which we are all aware — that creation was by the divine fiat. But we tend to forget that ‘this God is our God’, and that in the context of our current experience a word from His mouth is creative, corrective, and at times even destructive. His Voice can have a dramatic effect on our circumstances, if we will listen to it. The sound of it is sufficient to turn our thinking upside down, and alter our entire situation.
The use of the Voice, however — the Word spoken — while it can deal with rocks and seas and suns and moons, implies the presence somewhere of an ear to hear. If we are convinced of a person’s total deafness, we do not waste effort in shouting at him, but use some other method of communication. However there are those who are not deaf but occupied, pre-occupied, whose attention must be drawn before we can make contact. So we call before we speak, or ring a bell, flash a light, or wave a hand. God frequently has to call our attention in some way before He can speak, and many dramatic and painful experiences may be explained in this way. God is trying to catch our attention, in order to speak specifically to us. How many have been brought to their first real contact with the living God through a severe accident or illness? How many have been brought back to a new beginning with God, or to a much deeper relationship with Him through a financial catastrophe or a sudden and unexpected event which compelled them to sit down quietly and listen?
HOW TO HEAR
In Elijah’s case (l Kings 19) quite elaborate preparations were made for him to hear the Voice of the Lord. He had to travel to a remote spot in the desert, and on arrival he was met with a great wind which tore at the mountains and scattered rocks around — “but the Lord was not in the wind”. Then an earthquake, and a fire, but the Lord was in neither. So many negative experiences! And then a still, small voice, or ‘a sound of gentle stillness’ (RSV).
This ‘sound of gentle stillness’ seems to have been the Presence of God. It was not yet a voice saying something, nor was it complete silence, the absence of all sound. It was the music of His nearness. Have you ever heard that? It brought Elijah to the mouth of the cave where he composed himself to listen, his cape wrapped around his face.
These two actions seem to suggest:
1. that if you want to hear what God is saying, you must come out from your hiding place, wherever that may be, and stand at heaven’s door and listen. We hide in many strange places, mostly in busy living — eating and sleeping and talking and travelling and doing and watching others and competing, and thinking about ourselves. We will not hear what God is saying unless we give Him adequate opportunity, by coming out from our little world for a moment or two, and listening quietly to His Voice. “Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors” (Proverbs 8:34 RSV).
2 Elijah covered his face. Spiritual things are not visible at the present. They are ‘unseen’. We must listen. Perhaps this is why we often close our eyes to pray — the blind usually have very sensitive hearing. We have to shut out the visible to reach the invisible. We must exclude noises and voices to reach the otherwise inaudible.
“Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the Voice of one speaking. And he said to me ‘Son of man stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you’ … and I heard him speaking to me” (Ezekiel 1:28 RSV). [51/52]