The Still Small Voice

Encounter His Presence - Understanding 'Dark speech'

 Chapter Three, Part Three



My servant Moses:
is faithful in all My house.


With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.


Understanding ‘Dark Speech’

A wise man hears and will increase learning, and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels; to understand a proverb and the interpretation; the words of the wise and their dark sayings. (Proverbs 1:5-6)

T ell me a story! This is the cry of children all over the world. Jesus did not come to provide people with the scientific formulae by which His Father created the universe. He came to call sinners to repentance, to heal the sick, to restore the broken hearted . . . and to tell stories. What better medium can there be for conveying truth?

Zefirelli’s production of Jesus of Nazareth made such an impression on me because of the way he portrayed Jesus telling His parables. These well known stories integrate precious truths about the reality of the heavenly Kingdom with the world his hearers were entirely familiar with. Through them, Jesus showed His Father’s concern for everything that is lost: coins, son and sheep alike. In the process, He opened up a parallel new world to His hearers.

Simply telling them the eternal ‘facts of the matter,’ for example in a series of theological statements, could never have had the same impact.

Jesus taught the crowds about the Kingdom of Heaven almost exclusively by means of parables, but He explained their meaning afterwards to His disciples. Privately. Parables were thus both a helpful teaching aid and a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy: ‘I will open My mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from old.’[12]

A parable talks about one subject (such as fish, or a lost sheep) but its real meaning lies elsewhere. We need the key that enables us to understand this type of teaching.

Did you wonder what the reference to ‘riddles’ in Numbers 12:8 had to do with discerning the Still Small Voice? More, perhaps, than we might imagine. John and Paula Sandford do a splendid job in their books of making sense of the less direct ways in which God speaks to us, which they call ‘dark speech,’ or ‘dark sayings.’[13]

At its simplest, dark speech occurs when we think God is saying one thing to us, only to find out later that He was actually speaking about something rather different.[14] You may well have experienced this already – for example if you felt the Lord telling you to go and visit someone, only to find that they were out. Because you were on the move, you were in the right place to meet someone else. It is clear in retrospect that this was what the Lord intended all along, but it can be puzzling at the time.

Similarly, the Lord does not always rebuke us openly, but allows circumstances to work out in such a way as to bring us to a clearer understanding of a situation, and hence to our need of repentance. The more alert our spirits are, the quicker we will be at picking up on the ‘double entendres’ the Lord ‘encodes’ in the words that people (usually quite unwittingly) say to us. He also uses the hard lessons we learn, when we fail to think through consequences ahead of time, and insist on driving through red lights.

Intelligence work consists of painstakingly assembling apparently unrelated pieces of information, rather than of the shoot-outs beloved by the movie makers. We likewise will often have to ‘unravel’ the different pointers God gives us, in order to make sense of what He is saying. They are pieces of a jigsaw and pointers in a treasure hunt rather than full-page printouts of ‘answers from heaven.’

The Hebrew word chidah‘dark speech’ or ‘dark saying’ – literally means a ‘knot.’ There is nothing second best about indirect speech; it is simply part of the way by which the Lord keeps us humble and dependent. If we knew too much in advance, or could always be sure of hearing correctly, pride would puff us up and lead us astray.

In all this, the Lord wants us to become partners with Him through the discoveries we make on the way. He points our thoughts and prayers in a certain direction, and then looks for us to act on what He is showing us.

Sometimes we strive too hard to find a literal interpretation for some vision or dream we have received when it is the general thrust of the revelation that matters, rather than the specific details. When God gave Paul a vision of a Macedonian man calling to him across the water, it could be argued that the ‘man’ was actually Lydia! The important thing is that the mission changed direction and headed for Macedonia.[15]

At other times we can become too fixed on what we (mistakenly) believe the Lord has said. A friend rang a couple of months ago, utterly preoccupied with a long-standing feeling that the Lord wanted her to marry a particular man. So far as I could tell, his interest in her appeared to have waned past any reasonable hope of recovery. The impression I had was that she was desperately trying to find some way through the maze to reach the prize of marriage.

Children’s puzzles – such as ‘Help the frog find its way through the maze to the pond’ – are often easier to solve if you start at the opposite end and work your way backwards. I tried doing the same by looking at this from a different angle, urging her to consider not whether God was saying it but what it would be like actually to be married to him. She had to admit that on both past and present form, he would not be the kind and compassionate person that she needed.

The spell began to unravel. Two months on, she feels free and ‘clear’ again.

For Reflection and Prayer

Lord, help us to follow the threads of Your leading
until You pull the strands together
and the fuller picture comes into focus.

The Gift of Tongues

I would have you all speak with tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:5)

The gift of tongues is itself a form of dark speech. We use it to build ourselves up without knowing precisely which mysteries we are proclaiming, or who we are praying for. Let us not take this precious gift for granted![16]

I have known at least three occasions when a tongues has been given in a recognizable language. On several occasions the Lord gave me a series of revelations in a dialect of Farsi, which an Iranian friend was able to translate.

This provided powerful and important confirmation concerning the message the Lord had given me, to share with the wider Body of Christ concerning the grief and anger in God’s heart at the way the Church is allowing trivia and syncretism to blunt our cutting edge.[17] As a result, our nations are wide open to many opposing and dangerous spiritual forces. We shall be exploring this message in more detail in the sequel to this volume, Led by the Spirit.

On the second occasion, when my daughter was eleven, she prayed for someone in Tanzania, who received a special gift – the ability to speak in English! I shall be referring in chapter Six – The Power of Discernment – to the occasion when a friend prayed in an exquisitely beautiful medieval language, and brought precious insights concerning our sojourn in Shetland.

For Reflection and Prayer

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of tongues! May it be used to Your glory.

Jackie Pullinger, who has helped so many to receive the gift, recommends that we spend no less than fifteen minutes each day praying in this way, because it helps to release the power and authority of God into our lives.

Myths and Symbols

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. (John 1:32)

Long before I consciously opened my heart to the Lord Jesus, I experienced a strong sense of His presence ‘knocking on the door of my heart’ every time Aslan made an appearance in The Chronicles of Narnia. I still do so to this day. These wonderful stories ‘work’ as well for grown ups as for children.

We have seen that Jesus taught consistently through images. In our utilitarian world, C.S. Lewis reminds us of the power that myths and symbols have to portray the deepest aspects of truth. Many people today have become cut off from this way of learning – although the widespread popularity of symbol-laden fantasy games show that people are seeking to bridge this dimly perceived rift between head and heart.

May the Lord lead us to the reality of our missing symbols: of what it means to be a man, a woman, a family, a friend, a church, and so on.

I recently invited a friend to be part of the worship group at an event that I knew would appeal to him. He was as surprised as we were when the Lord told him not to come. In the meantime, someone had a vision of him sitting in the middle of a floor strewn with sharp tacks. As he watched, some of the tacks were hammered into the floor, making it possible for him to get out of the room he was stuck in.

My friend could make nothing of the symbolism. He was not aware of any particular needs or problems in his life, but he did know that the Lord had been speaking to him for some time about sending him a partner – and nothing appeared to be happening in that direction.

Meanwhile the Lord had been preparing a beautiful and anointed widow on the other side of the world! By a remarkable series of leadings, she paid a visit to his community, and recognized him immediately as the one for whom she had been keeping herself pure these many years. Right until the evening before she was due to leave, however, (to her considerable frustration!) my friend continued to act with studious courtesy and extreme reserve.

God had done His bit in preparing the couple’s hearts, and in making sure that he would not be out of town at the crucial moment – but he still had to do his part. In a rush of understanding, the vision of the pathway through the tacks returned to his mind.

Now it all made sense. Courage flooded in and he reached out to embrace the lovely lady God had brought into his life. Against the odds, visas were approved and they were free to be married.

For Reflection and Prayer

As we evaluate our attempts to listen, we will often find that our interpretation of events turns out to be too narrowly subjective. When hard things happen to ‘bad’ men, we automatically assume them to be the judgment of God. When similar things befall good people, we rush to put all the blame on the devil. That may by no means be all that is going on in a situation.

Midwifery Matters

Where is our listening to be worked out? Often, it will be in the place where we work. Many Christians feel guilty about their work, however, because they are not ‘full time’ for the Lord. It works the other way round, of course. Many Christian workers feel guilty because they are not doing a regular nine-to-five job. The devil does not miss a trick!

Spiritual distinctions are rarely as clear as I may have made it appear in this chapter. The boundaries between direct and indirect speech are by no means ‘carved in stone;’ they weave in and out of each other, often hovering between the crystal clear and the highly fragmentary. In this section, in which I shall be giving the briefest of overviews of how the Lord developed Ros’s calling as a midwife, we will see God speaking clearly about ‘professional’ matters.

As she came towards the end of her midwifery training, Rosalind applied for a job in Chester, where I was already living. We were married just two days after her final exams. Towards the end of out honeymoon, I felt a nudge to cut our holiday short. It was just a simple sense in my heart – no big deal, and therefore quite difficult to ‘grade.’

Ros and I often play a grading game, whereby we express how clearly we think we have heard something. ‘A’ grade means ‘Please take this seriously. I really think I have heard from the Lord, unless you feel that I’m mistaken.’ ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade may mean nothing more than ‘I have had this passing thought . . .’

There is nothing in the least infallible about this attempt to grade our nudges, but it does help us to convey how seriously we fell we need to take an issue.

Even though we had no ‘second strand’ to confirm this change of direction, we returned home three days ahead of schedule. There on the doormat was a letter, inviting Ros for an interview the following morning. In the light of the way the Lord subsequently developed her midwifery ministry, we can only marvel at the lengths He went to in order to bring us back in time for that interview. She turned out to be the last midwife from outside the county to be appointed for nearly a decade!

Two years later, Ros laid down her career to have our first-born. When Ruth was nearly a year old, however, the Lord tapped Ros on the shoulder and told her that He still had work for her to do as a midwife. At the same time, He asked me to support her fully in this venture.

From the moment Ros returned to work, it felt entirely different. Midwifery had now become a calling, rather than just a career. Many times she sensed the Lord’s prompting to pray with mothers during labour, or just after they had given birth.

Women are more open to God when they experience the miracle of giving birth than perhaps they will ever be at any other moment in their lives – and they never forget ‘the midwife who cared enough to pray with them.’ On at least two occasions, Ros prayed for babies who had stopped breathing. Both began to breathe again, without any ill effects.

In the late 1980’s the Lord led us to Shropshire. He confirmed that midwifery would be central to our calling, and when He gave us a house next door to a small maternity unit, we drew the obvious conclusion. We looked forward to Ros working there and maybe even coming home for lunch. Her application was rejected, however, because she was considered over qualified to work in the unit. In any case, they preferred to appoint people who had trained locally.

The Lord had given us His promise – and we needed the employment. The gap felt acute! It was at this critical juncture that the presence of the Lord came so powerfully on Ros that she literally shook. There and then He called her to set up as an independent midwife.

The Lord went to great lengths to open the door to make this calling a success. For over a decade she became the James Herriot of the midwifery world, with many a moonlit delivery up remote farm tracks. It brought her close to many families who were heavily involved in the New Age and occult, in a way that could never have happened by more conventional routes.[18]

On one occasion, Ros was attending a conference on the west coast of America, at which were present many lesbians and alternative practitioners. As one particular seminar progressed, ‘The Psychology of Fear on Childbirth,’ the atmosphere became heavier and heavier, as more and more horror stories were told of the devastating effects the litigation-driven culture is having on American midwives.

It was at this point that the Lord told Ros to take the microphone and release faith into the meeting. A prolonged argument ensued, which the Lord won by reminding her that within a few days she would be on a plane and heading back to the UK. Ros plucked up courage and did as the Lord had bidden her. Pandemonium broke out immediately (or was it a mini revival?) One lady shouted out, ‘Why does that woman refer to God as a man, propping up the male patriarchal system?’ She was subsequently counselled for salvation at the end of the evening. A prominent birth photographer also gave her heart to the Lord that day, and was discipled for a year by one of the Christian midwives.

Several other midwives got to their feet and testified that the Lord was with them, and how their hands were His hands to welcome babies into the world. We continued to enjoy close relationships with American midwives for many years as the result of Ros having the courage to follow the Lord’s leading.

One of the morals we can draw from this episode is the need to keep pushing in prayer. Pray Until Something Happens!

For Reflection and Prayer

Lord, You love to speak,
even without the need for words.
You listen to our inmost thoughts,
and draw our hearts to stillness.

Guard our hearing, Lord;
for listening is the gateway
to the intimate communion
that both we and You are longing for.

You taught us that the pure in heart are blessed,
for they will see God;
make our soul full of eyes
so that we can see and understand Your ways.

One word from You bestows direction
and kindles hope,
so never stop speaking to us.
Even if You have to say the same things
time and time again –

Even if it is not what we wanted to hear,
may we respond in faith and trust
until all that You purpose is accomplished.

As You show us where to go and what to do,
fill our hearts with a compassion
that mirrors Your own –
and may we take the beauty of Your presence
wherever we go.


12 Psalm 78:2
13 When Paul says, ‘Now we see dimly, as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face,’ the word ‘dimly’ literally means ‘in a riddle,’ or ‘in an enigma.’ Cf Job 19:26-7; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12 RSV; Mark 4:33,34. Many ‘mysteries’ only make sense when we discover the Lord’s perspective.
14 Cf Psalm 49:3-4. The NKJV translates ‘riddles’ as ‘dark sayings.’
15 Acts 6:8-15
16 1 Corinthians 14:18, 39-40
17 Syncretism is the attempt to fuse different (and even opposing) beliefs and ideologies under one banner, thus effectively refuting Jesus’ teaching that He is the only way to the Father. (John 14:6)
18 This might be a good opportunity to warn that involvement in occult links of any kind, whether deliberate or not, can lead to ‘psychic’ hearing rather than the authentic Still Small Voice. All such things need to be brought to the Cross, to die, before the life of the Spirit can flow. All sin and idolatry likewise clouds our hearing. Jack Deere looks at various other specific blockages in Surprised by the Voice of God (Kingsway), see especially chapters 16-18.