April 2nd, 2012

God’s voice is, more often than not, described as a small, still voice—a whisper.

It’s not a stupid question to ask, “Why?” Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for both God and us if God used more obvious ways to get our attention? Like a burning bush, the way God did for Moses. How much easier it would be to recognize God’s voice and presence if there was a burning bush? Or a loud, booming noise. How much easier it would be to hear God’s voice if God spoke in a thunderous manner! No denying that.

A couple of weeks ago, we got new neighbors in the apartment unit right above us. They are an older couple with a huge dog. There’s noise coming from upstairs constantly. The dog makes a lot of noise just by running around. They vacuum constantly at odd hours. Their garage door is right below our unit so every time the garage door opens and closes, we hear and feel it. They watch their TV with the volume all the way up and their windows open. We hear their TV more than our own.

But after a week of “What in the world” thoughts, we sort of got used to it. Recently we had someone over, and the neighbors were being themselves and making awful amount of noise. The guest, surprised, asked, “What in the world was that?” Our response? “Huh? Oh that? Yea, that’s nothing. That’s just our neighbors.”

It's the same living near the airport. After a while, the rumbling of the planes becomes part of the routine. Or living in the south with spectacular lightning storms. (For those who’ve never been in one, it can get scary.) Those who are used to storms don’t think much of it. For us Californians, small earthquakes are nothing. We just go on with our routine after the minimal rolling has stopped. (Big earthquakes, however, are a different story...)

With the burning bush, Moses didn’t realize what was going on at first. He just thought it was a bush that caught on fire. (We Southern Californians, unfortunately, know all about brush fires.) Moses didn’t catch on right away. He lingered a little longer, and that’s when he realized something wasn’t right. The bush was on fire, but it wasn’t burning up. Who knows? Maybe that bush was on fire for days straight and Moses just didn’t see it...

It’s easy to ignore loud and obvious things too.

I think God chooses to use a whisper because of its intimate nature. We whisper sweet nothings into the ear of our lover. Not just anyone can whisper into our ear. It’s a violation of our personal space. If a stranger leans in to whisper, we pull away in horror, hoping our stares will burn a mark of shame into them. And if someone doesn’t know how to whisper, they lose that privilege forever. You know, like those people who get so close their lips touch your ear. (I didn’t ask for a kiss.) Or those who use too much breath in their whisper, and after they finish, your ears are a little moist.

Often, it’s the small voice that really gets our attention. The authority figures in my life got all of my attention when they spoke softly. My parents would nag, yell, nag yell nag... and it became really easy to tune them out... but man... when they lowered their voice.... I knew something was up, and that I better pay attention.

It’s why when we preachers get to an important point of our message, we don’t shout it out—we lower our voice, to drive home the point.

Besides, when someone wants to whisper something to us, we know we want to hear it. It could be juicy gossip or something real serious. But when someone says, “I have to tell you something” it’s usually followed by a lower tone of voice.

That’s why I think God chooses to whisper to us. It’s more intimate. It’s more personal. It’s harder to ignore once we hear it. We have to seek it, meaning that we have to know God in order to be in an intimate, personal relationship. That’s why spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, prayer and fasting (to name a few) are important in staying deeply connected to God. It’s in this relationship we begin to recognize God’s voice more. It’s when we really get to know God that we know where to look for God’s voice.

So may we continue in deepening our relationship with God, and may we continue to be listening for God’s still, small voice.

Take a moment from your day. Go to a place where you won’t be disturbed. Be still, and know God.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of youth and spiritual formation at Valencia United Methodist Church in Valencia, CA. He blogs at Step by Step.
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