Friday, May 01, 2015

Recognizing God's Voice Comes by Experience

Prayer circle at Redeemer
I know the sound of Linda's voice. Immediately. This is to be expected after 42 years of marriage, plus a year of courtship. But had she called 44 years ago I would, upon hearing her voice, ask "Who is this?" 

I know my wife's voice by experience. Countless hours of communicating have attuned my heart to her's. I am able to distinguish her voice from the many other voices I hear throughout the day. This is how voice recognition happens, and this is how we come to hear the voice of God.

Dallas Willard writes: "The only answer to the question "How do we know whether this is from God?" is: By experience." (Willard, Hearing God, 217)

Sheep and other domesticated animals and pets recognize, without fail, their master's voice. When they first heard that voice they did not know who was speaking. But they learn this quickly. Jesus said:

The shepherd of the sheep . . . calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . 
He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . . 
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. . . . 
My sheep hear my voice. 
I know them, and they follow me. 
John 10:2-4, 14, 27

The more I spend time with Linda, the more I not only recognize the sound of her voice but also become familiar with the heart behind the sound of her voice. This comes by personal experience, and much of it. There is no substitute for this. You cannot get this out of a book. Second-hand experience will not do. The testimony of someone else cannot substitute for first hand, personal, experiential knowledge.

Someone who does not have time to pray should not expect to recognize the voice of God, any more than spouses who have drifted apart would be familiar with each other's hearts. Only familiarity breeds discernment. 

Familiarity in the sense of recognition and understanding is directly proportionate to the amount of time spent together, and spent in a certain way. That's how it is with people. It is the same with God. We come to recognize God's voice by personal experience.