Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to hear God’s voice: a loud, booming voice. Heavenly words that were clear and undeniable. Anytime I’d pray as a kid, I’d hope that voice would respond.
But it never did.
Another voice danced around inside of me, though. I’d try to sort out where it came from . . . my head, my heart, my gut? If the voice came from my head, then surely it was my own thoughts, but if it came from my heart or somewhere deep in my gut, shouldn’t that be God’s space? We’re told that Jesus lives in our hearts, so it’d make sense that that’s where he speaks from . . . right?
But despite my best efforts, I had the hardest time sorting out where the voice came from.
The people who seem to know their way around prayer would tell me to pray with passion and listen more than I speak. For years, though, these instructions seemed incongruent. How can I passionately listen? If I hear something I’ll pay attention to it, but if I don’t, I don’t. I can’t listen to what’s not there: either God speaks to me, or he doesn’t. Just get on with telling me which one it is and how it works. This whole prayer thing feels important, so we need to get it right, right?
We often get God’s words wrong, though. Even the Bible has been used to endorse behaviors and decisions that heaven knows aren’t right. So how can we be sure God is talking . . . and what’s the right way to talk back? Where do we go when we need to have words with God?
Scripture tells us that we knew the Voice intimately once, back in that Garden. There was no denying the voice of God; he walked with us in the cool of the day. But it would seem his voice wasn’t enough. We wanted to go around the Voice, to whatever may be behind it: the knowledge of good and evil, the answers to self-sufficiency, a godlike independence. So we didn’t listen to the Voice. We chose a different voice, the voice of the Accuser. This voice confirmed our suspicions. There was more to be had, and we wouldn’t be happy until we had whatever “it” was. The Voice was holding out on us, keeping us from discovering our own voice.
We know how that story goes.
But what’s fascinating to me is the Voice didn’t stay in the Garden. It moved with us. Even after we sinned and spilled our brother’s blood, the Voice showed up and kept on speaking to us. But over time fewer people heard the Voice. They were too busy building their own stuff, leveraging their newfound knowledge and skill. Largely, the Voice that unites us all was forgotten, and humankind listened to a restless voice that accused and vilified, setting the world in a violent frenzy. The Accuser had everyone’s ear, and life became worse than death.
There are some of us who know the Accuser’s voice isn’t the great Voice. While the Accuser is abrupt and persistent, the voice of God is subtle, wooing us into awe-filled delight. At first it sounds like a babbling brook or a tree dancing in the wind, but there’s something in the sound that we didn’t no- tice before, a resonance that quietly sings within us. Or is it actually outside of us? It’s too hard to tell. In the words of the great theologian Karl Barth, “O, if we could actually hear, if we could but hear this voice that resounds so clearly within us as actually God’s voice. If we could only believe. Then we could also speak.”
Through patience, steadfastness, and faith, some of us realize that the Voice is not just something out there; it belongs to the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It is within us. We’ve got it all backward; we’re not yelling across a canyon in the dark. Our voice is an echo of the Voice. It would seem that having words with God is about joining the conversation, not starting it.
The Voice is speaking.
Can you hear it? Will you answer?
Addison Bevere serves as the COO of Messenger International, a discipleship organization that impacts millions of people in virtually every country through various initiatives. He is also a cofounder of SonsAndDaughters.tv. Addison and Juli Bevere live in Nashville with their four children.
Article adapted from Words with God: Trading Boring, Empty Prayer for Real Connection (©2023 by Addison Bevere; published by Revell)