God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).

Most people I know have an innate desire to hear God; actually, more than a desire, an intense longing. We want to connect with the divine, to somehow see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s inborn, an inherent ingredient of our humanity.

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. We don’t notice his voice because we don’t recognize it. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or thorough a speaking beast of burden, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.

We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.

How do we learn to discern God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”

To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.

Christian meditation

You and I are already meditation experts. We practice it all the time in everyday matters.

With our first child still fresh in the womb, our mind imagines the new bedroom. We picture fresh paint, where the crib fits best, the changing table and rocker. We envision our future life—nursing, teaching soccer, and Christmas mornings—and it changes us today.

We take a truth—our wife’s bulging belly—and consider with our mind and heart. We let the thoughts of our mind mix with the meditations of our heart. And something inside is stirred.

Christian meditation is like that. Unlike eastern meditation—which empties its mind—we fill our mind with a truth, examine it, let it examine us, and in that meditative mix, God speaks.

Theophan the Recluse (a household name to be sure) said, “To [meditate] is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.”

How does this work in day-to-day life?

A common Christian prayer time involves scripture study and worship (sprinkled liberally with confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and a Christian book or two).

Our study tends to be information gathering (which is good) while our worship is an expression of our spirit and heart (which is also good). Sometimes the move from study to worship feels like shifting from first to fourth gear. We need to link scripture study with worship.

Meditation is that bridge.

Here is what I do. I usually read an Old Testament passage, a Gospel, and a New Testament letter. (Right now I’m reading 2 Kings, Mark, and 1 Corinthians.) As I read the passage (and slow is better than fast), I wait—I remain alert—for a quickening in my heart.

I’m not sure how else to describe it, maybe a stirring in my spirit or just a sense of God. The two on the road to Emmaus said, “Were not our hearts burning within us.” That works.

When stirring begins, I stop reading and meditate on the verses. I ask myself questions like,

  • What does this truth say about God? Why would God even say it?
  • What would my life look like if I believed it were true?
  • Why did this passage make me curious? What stirred that curiosity?
  • How does my culture twist, distort, or reject this? How has culture affected me?
  • Why don’t I really believe this; or, to what degree do I doubt it?
  • How does this truth—if it’s really true—make me love God more?
  • What do I need to change in my thinking or actions to align myself with its truth?

I begin by analyzing the idea presented; but after a time, I move from analyzing the text to gazing at God. I move from word-ful thinking to word-less admiration. Jordan Aumann wrote, “Contemplation signifies knowledge accompanied by delight that arouses admiration and captivates the soul” (slightly edited).

What next?

It doesn’t happen the same way every day, and certainly not with the same intensity. Some days I’m stirred by verses in the first passage, and I skip the other passages. Other days I finish all the passages, I ask myself which stirred me the most, and I return to that. And gaze.

The safest—and smartest—place to learn to discern God’s voice is in scriptural meditation. But once we begin to recognize his voice, we hear it all over the place, in a movie, on a billboard, through a friend, from a stranger on a bus. And we meditate with similar questions.

But we don’t stop there. Once we hear God speak, we share it. The best way to know something is to express it; with your spouse, friend, colleague, or with that stranger on the bus. We began with our mind, we descend into our hearts, and with our mind again we articulate with words the wordless vision of God.

My blog

This blog is mostly my expressions of my meditations. I take vague stirrings in my heart, often simple curiosities, and meditate and express them. Sometimes it leads to confession, sometimes to question the world’s influence on Christians, and sometimes to purer worship.

Though I’ll be sure to let you know if the neigh of my horse starts to sound like Shakespeare.

Sam (the aspiring recluse)

Are you anxious about receiving God’s guidance?

Several years ago I took my wife to Sonoma, California for our 30th wedding anniversary to celebrate the beauty of our marriage in the beauty of wine-country. It seemed very fitting since Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into extraordinary wine was His demonstration that He could turn what is ordinary into something extraordinary and intoxicating. (John 2)

We flew into the San Francisco airport where we picked up our rental car. Once we located our car in the parking garage, I set up my new GPS devise that my family bought me for my birthday earlier that month. Shortly after turning it on, it gave me the message, “unable to acquire satellites.” The signals my guidance unit needed were blocked by the structure around me.

As I pulled out of the car rental garage after showing the attendant my paperwork, I noticed that I had just a few yards left before I would have to turn either left or right and choose a lane for different highways. I pulled off to the side to allow the GPS to start working but the attendant started yelling and signaling me to get going. As I moved up to the stoplight, I was faced with a decision without adequate information. I picked a lane and started moving. THEN, the GPS spoke up – It had connected with the satellites and calculated my position.

The GPS promptly instructed me to take the next left, but I couldn’t. I was stuck in the right lane with a barricade on my left. As I drove past the on-ramp I should have taken in this unfamiliar, chaotic place I started to go to panic, anger and shame. And then I heard a calm, re-assuring voice say, “recalculating”. The GPS realized that I had missed my turn and was recalculating a new route for me to take to our destination. After a few tense and uncertain moments, I realized that this was not a disaster and that I could relax, enjoy conversation, music and beauty as I simply moved forward as instructed.

What started out as an anxiety and regret-ridden road-trip, turned into an exhilarating, adventuresome journey to a beautiful destination, and all because I was able to get out from under the obstructions and trust the guidance of something that knew where I wanted to go and how to get there, even with the mistakes I had made.

God is so kind and forgiving with our blunders, misunderstandings, reluctance, over-ambitiousness, immaturity and sinfulness. So many times I expected Him to say to me, “You blew it, you’re on your own now, I’m done trying to help you.” Instead, God invites us out from under all the obstructions (wounding, sin, warfare) to His guidance. “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress.” (Heb. 12:1 NLT) I have come “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isa. 61:1)

But then, when we blow it and have a repentant heart; God says, “recalculating.” In other words, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psa. 32:8) “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11 NLT)

Let us keep our heart free to hear His voice and relaxed with the faith that He will “recalculate” our way when needed.

Gary