HEARING THE VOICE OF GOD
Written by Doug Ponder on September 23, 2015
The Morning I Heard the Voice of God
Well-known author and retired pastor John Piper writes about a time God clearly spoke to him. The excerpt below is taken from his account of the morning he heard the voice of God.
March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness… I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.
God said, “Come and see what I have done.” Then he said, as clearly as any words have ever come into my mind, “I am awesome in my deeds towards the children of man.” My heart leaped up, “Yes, Lord! You are awesome in your deeds. Yes, to all men whether they see it or not. Yes! Now what will you show me?”
Words came again. Just as clear as before, but increasingly specific: “I turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There they rejoiced in me—who rules by my might forever.”
I realized God was taking me back several thousand years to the time when he dried up the Red Sea and the Jordan River. I was being transported by his word back into history to those great deeds. This is what he meant by “come and see.” These were the “awesome deeds” he referred to. God himself was narrating the mighty works of God. He was doing it for me. He was doing it with words that were resounding in my own mind.
A palpable peace came down. This was a holy moment and a holy corner of the world in northern Minnesota. God Almighty had come down and was giving me the stillness and the openness and the willingness to hear his very voice. As I marveled at his power to dry the sea and the river, he spoke again. “I keep watch over the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves.”
God may as well have taken me by the collar of my shirt, lifted me off the ground with one hand, and said, with an incomparable mixture of fierceness and love, “Never, never, never exalt yourself. Never rebel against me.”
God still speaks in the twenty-first century! I heard his very words. He spoke personally to me. It filled me with a fresh sense of God’s reality. It assured me more deeply that he acts in history and in our time. It strengthened my faith that he is for me and cares about me and will use his global power to watch over me.
Then, Piper says the most important thing about his experience: “If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5-7. That is where I ‘heard’ them. O, how precious is the Bible! It is the very word of God… No voice anywhere, anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God we hear in the Bible.”
Piper didn’t hear God speak “out loud.” He heard the voice of God by reading the Bible. And best of all, because God’s words have been written down, they are available to everyone. This is not a cop out. Jesus himself said that the Bible, as God’s written word, is more powerful and more convincing than your firsthand experiences (Luke 16:29, 31). According to Jesus it’s better to read God’s word in the Scriptures than to hear from him with a directly audible voice. That’s how powerful the Bible is. Yet many people will admit (if they are honest) that this doesn’t feel like “enough.” But the truth is that if God could speak to us in a hundred ways, we would still want one hundred and one.
None of this means that God can’t speak directly to his children. He can, but Jesus’ point is that the Bible is better. It is a clearer guide. It is more inspiring in its beauty. It is more applicable in its universality. And it is a more sure word (2 Pet. 1:21). Indeed, you cannot even be certain that God is speaking to you unless what you hear is confirmed by what God has already written. For there are many spirits in the world, and that is why God calls us to “test” them (1 John 4:1). But what are we supposed to test them with? Like Silentó, you already know what it is. The Bible is God’s gift to us. It is the starting place and the ending place for hearing God’s voice.
The Good Book of God’s Voice
What we are saying, then, is that too many people go wandering through life looking for a “word from God” about this or that, when they should have focused on what God has already said. Because they haven’t, they can’t even be sure that it is God who is speaking to them. So they are carried about “by every wind of doctrine,” like a ship lost at sea, instead of someone anchored to the truth of God’s word.
The amazing truth is this: the more that we read God’s word in the Bible, the better we are able to hear his voice or discern his leading in other areas of life. This is why Jesus could say, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep… My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:14-15, 27).
Isaac Watts, a famous hymn writer in the 1700s whose songs are still sung today, wrote a beautiful hymn about how the Scriptures lead us to the Good Shepherd. (The words are below, and you can listen to a modern version of it here.)
Laden with guilt, and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears
But in Thy written Word.
The volume of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage;
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.
This is the field where hidden lies
The pearl of price unknown;
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own.
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin;
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
Nor danger dwells therein.
This is the Judge that ends the strife
Where wit and reason fail,
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale.
O may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command;
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.
What a glorious thought! God’s voice, available to you in the twenty-first century, waiting in the pages of his written word. It offers the glimpse of hope for weary souls and grace to calm every fear as it points us to Jesus our Savior. It is the soil for the “tree of knowledge,” the spring of living water, the judge that settles difficult questions in life, and it contains the counsels of God that lead us home.
If you want to begin reading the Bible, but aren’t sure where to start, try reading a little bit more about the Bible first.
The Bible Did Not Fall from Heaven (So where did it come from?)
Can We Trust the Bible? (Hint: Jesus did.)
The Bible Isn’t About You (So who or what is it about?)
How Not to Read The Bible (Guard yourself from these common errors)
Then talk to your pastors or your community group leader about how they read and study the Bible in their lives.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.