”God never speaks to me.” People have told me that many times. Sometimes they're frustrated. Sometimes they're nonchalant, having come to believe that this is their condition in life, with nothing to be done about it, like “I’m short.” Other times they are sad, feeling neglected and rejected, having listened the best they can for a very long time, and having heard nothing from a seemingly negligent God.
For years we lived in a lovely community. Our road was the boundary between the community of our humble, antique home, and that of a wealthy suburban town with multimillion dollar mansions with tall, manicured hedges and ancient, intricate stone entrances. I chose to take my daily walks through these scenic neighborhoods, stepping from suburban New York City colonial and cape architecture to English Manors, by crossing the street. Police cars passed me almost every day on my hour-long walks. I felt safe, almost as if the patrolling officers, never traveling over 35 miles per hour on rolling, winding streets, were looking out for me. I carried a bottle of water and keys, and walked carefree and thoroughly spoiled in my special world.
I had mapped out the town of mansions in walking time intervals and could change my route to add or subtract minutes from my walk. I always tried to be home by dusk, and was very careful walking on the side of the road if I couldn’t get back before the sun went down. The roads twisted and turned, narrow and lined with mature oaks and evergreens. Some homes were tucked away, out of sight, except in the dead of winter. I came to know the neighborhoods better than the back of my hand.
The seasons were changing and the days were growing shorter. I realized one cool evening that the sun had begun it’s earlier descent. I grabbed what I estimated to be the best neon coat for the weather and hastily began my prayer walk. I calculated my course and charged ahead, up short hills and around blind corners. I was racing against the sun’s departure and determined that I should go home a certain way, one which offered less exposure to evening traffic on that last stretch home.
“No.” I heard a reprimand in my mind. I knew the prompting was from the Holy Spirit. There was no doubt.
Thoughts that I’ll be more careful entered my mind, heeding the voice as a warning, but determined to keep going as I had planned. I took another step, my discomfort growing. “I’m being warned,” I knew. “But I’ll be careful. I hear the warning. I just don’t want to have a shorter walk.” When I think back, it’s ridiculous that I put my unimportant plans ahead of God’s voice, but I did. The unknown often seems less threatening when we’re determined, and in this case, clueless. Still, as I walked ahead, I knew I couldn’t go one step more in that direction. I finally heeded the strong pull to turn. I arrived home after a short and unsatisfying 40 minute jaunt around the block.
I got the mail from the black metal box on the clapboard wall of our Victorian porch the next day, about lunchtime. The headline of the local paper jumped at me. “First Murder in Decades Occurs in Town.” I read the story. An elderly resident had been abducted and killed in a struggle with his limo driver. It had happened at sundown the previous night. The address was around the corner from the turn that I had reluctantly made when the Holy Spirit told me “No,” the evening before.
The perpetrator had been under the influence of a controlled substance that made him violent and reckless. He had fled the scene. Would I have encountered him on my otherwise peaceful walk through darkening, empty streets? I think I would have. I did the calculations in my mind repeatedly. The “coincidence” gave me the chills. I had been divinely protected. I knew this near miss wasn’t a coincidence.
If I tell my kids “You can have one more treat” in a whisper, they usually hear it as certainly as if I had shouted it.
I’ve learned the better I listen, the less trouble I encounter.
God doesn’t just speak to us in moments of near danger or possible trouble. He speaks to us all of the time. We get urges or promptings to buy this, or not to buy that, to call an old friend, to not say a certain thing, to watch a sermon on social media, to avoid going to a certain movie. This is simply the Holy Spirit, helping us walk the right paths, to encounter destiny-changing opportunities, to be used to encourage and love people, to avoid pitfalls, sin, potentially unhealthy relationships and danger. There are moments when we can pause and ask God to guide us. Then we need to listen and flow with His leadings. Like most disciplines, it’s a skill that we develop. But beyond that, it’s a relationship that we take the time to nurture by stopping and respecting what God may want to say to us.
We can’t be so self-important that we dictate how and when God will speak to us. God is infinitely creative and will answer our cries and requests in countless ways.
Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the relationship between Scripture and our intimate daily lives. It says,
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Sometimes mere exposure to His Word will sooth our hearts and calm our Spirits. James 4:8 promises, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” It continues to say, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” This may sound harsh, but God is reminding us that we don’t always come before Him with best intentions and clean motives. This verse tells us to approach Him having confessed our sins and cleared our consciences. We can, indeed, be double-minded. This means “wavering.” We hear God and receive His guidance best when we decide to firmly choose our steps according to His ways. We need to be open to hearing words that may not be what we want to hear because He knows more than we could ever imagine knowing, and He loves us as the perfect Father that He is.
As my feet crunched on the side of the road that fall evening, years ago, I had my own agenda. As my breath heavily puffed into the night air, I didn’t want anyone to change my path. For a moment, I was double-minded. I wavered between obeying the voice I knew was the Lord’s, and my over-simplified reasoning that my way was best. We all do this at times. I know that I’ve encountered trouble that my Father, the Lord, whispered into my ear to avoid. I’ve ignored that voice many times. But there are other times that I’ve listened, no matter how irrelevant and simply wrong that voice seemed. It’s never been wrong.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”