The Still Small Voice

Recognise His Voice - When the Lord dons a disguise

 Chapter Two, Part One


We limit ourselves when we say
‘I’m not the sort of person
the Lord would speak to.’


It honours Him
when we attempt to listen to
His Still Small Voice.

Recognise His Voice

We limit ourselves when we say, ‘I’m not the sort of person the Lord would speak to.’

It honours Him when we attempt to listen to His Still Small Voice.

In C S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the news that Aslan was on the move never failed to cheer spirits and to be greeted with wild enthusiasm. In our day, when the Lord is on the move by His Spirit, and many are hearing Him leading, warning and directing them with extreme clarity, it is vital that we recognize the ways by which He speaks.

May I take a certain familiarity with the basic ways in which the Lord communicates with us for granted? We have all known times when a passage from the Bible, or a Christian book, has taken on a special meaning, or when a preacher’s words have spoken directly to our situation.

Such experiences reassure us of God’s care. He knows what we are going through, and wants to share it with us.

We will likewise have known the Spirit’s prompting to ring or visit someone at ‘just the right time.’ These are such familiar experiences, that it is often only with hindsight that we realize it really was the Lord speaking.

In this chapter, we are going to explore less the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how we hear God speaking so much as consider how we can gain confidence in recognizing the Still Small Voice. Despite the confusion we all go through in seeking God’s will, the Lord wants us to be alert to His leading – and to teach young Christians to listen likewise.

This is what our friend Sally Mowbray wrote about her early struggles in this respect:

When I was a younger Christian, I was constantly afraid that I was not hearing God’s voice at all. Then I came across this verse in John 10:17: ‘My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.’

Suddenly it hit me: this was a statement of fact. God said it, so it must be true! It was my feelings that were off-beam. The thoughts in my head that said I could not hear God’s voice were none other than the ‘Father of Lies’ making a determined push to have me give up even trying to listen.

When I started approaching life with the confidence and expectation that I really could hear God’s voice, I found it much easier to recognize when He was speaking to me.

To help us discern the Shepherd’s accents amid the mass of voices that clamour in our minds, it helps to bear in mind that the Lord speaks to our spirit, and with greater clarity than the mind produces. This may sound like a minor nuance, but it is a serious distinction. When the Spirit speaks, we are left with a deep assurance, even if we do not fully understand all the implications of what He has said. When we ‘hear’ only our own fears, we are usually left with nothing more substantial than a sense of confusion – or with a false euphoria if we are heeding delusory desires.

When the Lord says the very thing we most wanted to hear, it can be almost as hard to believe it as it is when He calls us to face something more challenging. We are afraid we are imagining the words of blessing and promise, just as we are inclined to rebel against warnings of rebuke.

For Reflection and Prayer

Confidence and right expectations are important aspects of listening to the Still Small Voice. Paul always had confidence that God would turn things out for the best(1) – unlike a certain king of Israel who was afraid to listen because he expected God’s prophets to say nothing good about him.(2) Which if these ‘extremes’ do you veer towards

If we only expect God to rebuke us, we have a seriously distorted view of Him. Since Jesus is for us, and all He says and does is designed to bless and develop us, why side with the enemy’s hopelessly jaundiced and biased assessment of situations?

Lord, I dare to believe
That Your goodness is coming towards me.(3)
What You have promised You will bring to pass. Amen!

Our ability to hear varies from day to day

Be careful to drop vain and useless thoughts the moment you become conscious of them, but quietly, without effort or violence. Abandon to Divine Providence all that might become a subject of preoccupation for you. (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

Did you see the film The Heroes of Telemark? Against all the odds, courageous Allied saboteurs destroyed stocks of heavy water that were vital to German scientists in their bid to develop an atomic bomb. Their efforts were further advanced than most people realize. Had the Nazis achieved their goal, the war would have had a very different ending. As is often the case, the real story is far more compelling than the supposedly more dramatic Hollywood version.(4)

Amongst the unsung heroes of the Resistance movement were the radio operators. These people took their lives in their hands every time they made their transmissions, running the gauntlet of sophisticated Nazi detection finding apparatus.

When radio reception was crystal clear, messages could easily be transmitted and received. On other occasions, when the static was strong, it was all but impossible to make anything out. Most of us have similar experiences when it comes to trying to listen.

It is worth recognizing from the outset that we will experience times – even prolonged ones – when we will be unable to hear anything at all. Illness deadens, the devil opposes, our flesh mishears . . .these are such common experiences that I will be devoting a whole book in the Pilgrim’s Guide series to the theme of spiritual wildernesses.

On one occasion, when I was feeling particularly troubled about this, the Lord reminded me that there are seasons in the life of the soul, just as there are in nature. Even the Lord Jesus knew times when the Spirit’s power was particularly strong.(5) By reverse logic, there must have been times when the power of the Lord was less present to heal.

I find it awesome how calmly the Lord Jesus coped with interruptions. Time and again, He would be on His way to accomplish one mission, when something would crop up to delay Him. May the Lord grant us discernment to tell the difference between ‘God-incidencies’ and needless – or even demonic – interruptions.

We should take extra care with revelations that come during feverish or highly emotional interludes. Too many demands can likewise clog and confuse the wavelengths of our mind. Neither should we underestimate the furious efforts the demonic forces make to ‘jam’ our communication. Far better than we, they recognize the damage that will be done to their kingdom when a person, group or fellowship is following the leading of the Lord.

Although our ability to hear varies, there is often what I term a ‘Five Minute Barrier’ to persevere through as we try to bring our soul to stillness. During this period (which can last a great deal longer than five minutes) we may have to wrestle with all manner of wayward and disturbing thoughts. It pays to jog down the more useful of these as they come, so that we do not spend the rest of our time worrying that we will forget to license the car or to take the chicken out of the freezer.

Track down and isolate any other niggles in your soul. Decide then whether to pray specifically about them – which might be wisdom, but there again might only serve to play into the Distracter’s hand. There are times when it is better to push such thoughts resolutely to one side. Refuse them house room!

Will we always break through the turbulence of our mental clutter and come into the unhindered presence of God? I would dearly love to say that we will, but realistically this will not always be the case.

If, after a period of time, our thoughts are refusing to settle, our spirits remain leaden, and daydreams are making serious reflection impossible, we may be wiser to leave it for the time being. Go and do something else instead.

On other occasions, we do reach a place of inner stillness only to have to drag ourselves immediately away as other duties beckon. It is better to have glimpsed and tasted than to have made no real effort to seek the Lord. Something of that inner peace will remain with us as we head into the busyness of the day.

For Reflection and Prayer

How serious are we about wanting to go deeper with the Lord? We do not need to allow our attention to be always taken up with worries, people and tasks-to-do. I see a picture of the Lord, alone standing with me.

I am facing Him, but these other things are ‘hangers-on,’ clawing at me and demanding my attention. I watch my head swivel from one to another as they catch my attention.

The interesting thing is that they are not between me and My Father; they are positioned behind and beside me so I have to turn my head away from Him in order to focus on them. I am left with my body facing the Lord, but my head turned away.

I have chosen to turn towards these distractions and give them my attention. The Lord longs for me to give Him my undivided attention – not least because He knows how much this will benefit me. (Sally Mowbray)

When the Lord dons a disguise

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them – but they were kept from recognizing Him. (Luke 24:14)

Cleopas and Mary were walking disconsolately back to Emmaus having witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. Suddenly, a stranger came and kept them company. After they had poured out their hurting hearts, He opened up the Scriptures to them – and their hearts burned within them. There is a simple reason why they were so slow to recognize their Lord: Scripture says that He came to them – as He often does to us – in a different form.(6)

When the Lord dons unexpected disguises, He always has good reasons for doing so. In The Horse and his Boy, the runaways Shasta and Aravis are riding separately by night. Suddenly they hear what sounds like two lions roaring on either side of them. The lions propel the pair together and the adventures begin. They discover later that there had only ever been one lion – Aslan himself.(7)

Further on in the story, Aslan takes the form of a cat, in order to comfort a boy who is obliged to spend a night amongst haunted ruins. The boy would have been afraid of a lion, so Aslan adopts a humbler disguise.

It sounds less than impressive to admit it, but it is not always at all obvious whether something is of God, the devil or just a mundane muddle. Struggling to confirm an on-line airline ticket a few months ago, as yet another attempt came to nothing, I felt like shouting in block capital hieroglyphics: ‘What’s the point of a web site you can’t book tickets on?!?’

It was at this rather jaundiced moment that I sensed the Still Small Voice prompting me to book my ticket one day earlier than I had been intending. Glancing up, I saw a shining rainbow outside my window. Minutes later the phone rang with an invitation to attend an important meeting in the House of Lords on that earlier day.

There I had been, blaming British Airways and the devil for the delay, whilst all the time God had been preventing me from wasting money on a non-refundable ticket, because He wanted me to be present at that meeting. When I came to book this revised date, the system worked perfectly.

In times of waiting, we are easily inclined to feel that the Lord is not doing very much. Like the disciples, we long to rouse Jesus from His sleep on the cushions of the boat!(8) When we cannot make sense of a predicament, try looking away from it for a moment, and thank Him. The Lord hears our prayers, and wants us to trust Him – even if He appears to be fast asleep, or nowhere to be seen. The more we trust, the easier it is for Him to work His purposes out.

Because there is often a significant time delay between the Lord’s call and its subsequent outworking, however, there is always a danger that we will try to fulfill the vision by our own efforts. The troubles multiply when we take matters into our own hands. Like Abraham we can make an ‘Ishmael’ even out of genuine promises. At all such times, the guiding principle to remember is: ‘Do not try to row when the wind is not filling your sails.’

If you have already jumped the gun in some area, it is never too late to repent. He hears our cries, reweaves the strands of our life and helps us to fare better next time round. By the Lord’s grace, He usually does allow us further changes. He also knows us well enough to start in plenty of time!

For Reflection and Prayer

Lord Jesus, if You had come before the midnight hour,
All the virgins would have been ready.

It was the long delay which exposed their folly.

In all our times of waiting,
May our faith not fail.

When sharp frustrations come our way,
May impatience not cause us to move ahead of Your purposes –
And may fear not cause us to hold back.

1 Philippians 1:19-20
2 2 Chronicles 18:7; 17
3 Exodus 33:19
4 Ray Mears The Real Heroes of Telemark (Coronet Books)
5 Luke 5:17
6 Luke 24:13-32
7 C.S Lewis The Horse and his Boy (Harper Collins)