Of all the ways God speaks, the one I like least (and fear most) is his silence. The absence of his voice seems to come at the moments I most desperately long for a word. In those moments, his silence feels like God at his cruelest.

We cry out to God, we promise to do exactly as he says, and we get silence. It hardly seems fair.

Paradoxically, God often speaks the loudest in his silence. But his words do not always come as a voice. They come as action. Later in life, when we remember the silent voice of God, it is those “words” we come to treasure most. His Spirit breathes life into our lives, and his silent words somehow take shape in our hearts.

Learning to hear God is not a gimmick. We can’t force God’s hand, and we certainly can’t force him to speak. He doesn’t respond to our incantations like a dog to his master’s command.

He is God, and he speaks in the moments that he determines best and with the methods he knows we need most. And some lessons need the laboratory, not the lecture hall.

God is always speaking—always! But some words need to be shown, not told.

Consider the Life of Esther

Esther lived when Persia ruled most of the known world. Tens of thousands of Jews live scattered in exile throughout the Persian empire. The grand vizier Haman hates these alien Jews and he convinces King Xerxes (mostly through bribery) to exterminate every last one.

This is THE time for God to speak or send a prophet. Instead God acts. Just look at the story:

  • King Xerxes gets drunk and commands Queen Vashti to parade herself before his drunken friends.
  • Queen Vashti refuses.
  • The king holds the world’s first international beauty pageant. Esther is crowned Queen.
  • Esther’s uncle Mordecai overhears and then foils a plot to assassinate the king.
  • But the king forgets to reward Mordecai.
  • Evil Haman convinces King Xerxes to kill all the Jews and steal their wealth, and Haman secretly builds gallows on which to hang Mordecai.
  • That night the king can’t sleep, so he orders past court records to be read (which would put anyone to sleep). Mordecai’s story of loyalty is retold and the king realizes he never rewarded Mordecai.
  • At that very moment, Haman enters the court to tell of his plans to hang Mordecai. The king asks Haman what should be done for the man that pleases the king. Haman (sure that man must be himself) suggests an elaborate, city-wide honoring ceremony.
  • The king tells evil Haman to lead the procession that will honor Mordecai.
  • Queen Esther invites the king and Haman to a couple dinner parties. She tells the king (in Haman’s presence) that Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews will include her.
  • Haman is killed on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and all of God’s people are saved.

If any single event hadn’t occurred, the Jews would have been wiped out: if the king hadn’t gotten drunk, or if Vashti hadn’t refused, or if the king had rewarded Mordecai immediately (instead of forgetting), or if the records hadn’t been read that very night … destruction.

The Strangest Twist in Scripture

And yet … Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God isn’t mentioned. No words, not even prayers. It’s like the proofreader, at the very last moment, says, “Wait, we forgot to mention God!” and the production manager says, “Oops, too late, it’s already gone to print.”

Throughout the book of Esther, God is silent. Can that be it? Just an editorial mistake?

Or does Esther’s story show God speaking on every page, revealing his unbelievable ability to turn all things (even evil plots against his people) into good; so that later, when we look back, we see him shouting his words of power in ways we’d never imagine. All in his seeming silence.

If God seems silent in your life right now, just remember. There are some things that God can’t tell us. He shows us instead.

Sam

P. S. Yesterday Amazon released my new book early (surprising my publisher). It is available for order now.

Would you like a deeper, more conversational relationship with God? Do you wish you knew how to hear Him speak?

This article includes material from my  book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere, just released (surprise!) from Kregel Publications.

Latest March 22 2016

In this book, you’ll learn:

  • How to recognize the sound of God’s voice
  • How to hear God in His silence
  • How to brainstorm with God
  • How to hear His voice in Scripture

And many other ways in which God speaks!

Order now! Just click on any of these links or the book cover, and this guide to hearing God’s voice everywhere will be in your hands.

“A remarkable book. . . . It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide!”

—Gary Wilkerson, pastor, author, son of David Wilkerson

If you want to grow in your ability to recognize how God makes himself known to you, read Sam Williamson’s Hearing God in Conversation.

—Wayne Jacobson, pastor and author of He Loves Me and Finding Church

To order, click here! Hearing God in Conversation

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

Central to the nature of the human race is a desire to hear God. Well, more than mere desire. We crave a connection with the divine, somehow to see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s an inborn, inherent ingredient of our humanity.

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. It’s not that he doesn’t speak to us, it’s just that we don’t recognize it when he does. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or thorough a speaking donkey, 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 begin to recognize 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 experts. We meditate 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 minds 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 (liberally sprinkled with confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and maybe a Christian book).

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.

My Scripture study usually includes an Old Testament passage, a Gospel, and a New Testament letter. (Right now I’m reading Amos, John, and 1 Peter.) 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 reveal about God? Why would God want to reveal it to me?
  • Why does this passage intrigue me? What about it stirs my curiosity?
  • What would my life look like if I believed it were true?
  • How does my culture twist, distort, or reject it? How has that affected me?
  • Why don’t I really believe this truth deep down? What stops me from embracing it?
  • How does this truth make me love God more? How does it reveal his beauty?
  • What do I need to change in order to realign my heart with this truth?

I begin by analyzing the truth 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 learn to recognize his voice in Scripture, we begin to hear it everywhere, in a movie, on a billboard, through a friend, from a stranger on a bus. And we meditate with similar questions.

My Blog

This blog is mostly the expressions of my meditations. I take vague stirrings in my heart, often simple curiosities, meditate, and then 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)

++++++++++++

This article includes material from my upcoming book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. It will be released in mid-July by Kregel Publications.

I believe it will help you begin to hear God in a new conversational relationship.

Latest March 22 2016

Please consider pre-ordering the book now by clicking onone of these links or on the book cover.

Topics include:

  • Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
  • Hearing God in his silence
  • How to Brainstorm with God
  • Hearing God in Scripture
  • Hearing God for guidance

Wayne Jacobson, pastor and author of He Loves Me and Finding Church, said this:

If you want to grow in your ability to recognize how God makes himself known to you, I can’t recommend a better guide than Sam Williamson’s Hearing God in Conversation.

When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes, so we could challenge the wind every day.

I probably sailed with my dad for a hundred hours before I took the boat out on my own. My dad would have me handle either the sail or the rudder. Of our many hours sailing together, I’ll bet his actual instruction time totaled an hour, two at the most.

He might say, “Pull in the sail a bit,” or, “Turn a little more to the left.” (My dad didn’t care much about proper nautical terminology.) Those short comments took mere moments to say, and Dad didn’t make them often. Mostly we just sailed together for hours and hours. And bit by bit, gust by gust, wave by wave, I learned to sail.

Instead of instructing, Dad mostly just chatted.

He would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say, “A pirate!” (of course) and he’d heartily agree (“Yo, ho, ho!”). He’d ask why I had yelled at my sister, and I’d ask why he got angry at my mom. We’d talk about books we were reading, sermons he was preparing, which girls I found interesting, and what it would be like to sail across the ocean.

Our relationship with God can be like that. Conversational.

Would We Want It Any Other Way?

When we imagine “hearing God,” we mostly picture God telling us what to do. We ask for guidance, but it means we’re asking for lectures: Do this and don’t do that. God wants conversations with us far more than he wants to lecture.

Jesus once said, “If you earthly fathers, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your kids, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).

Think of your fondest memories of your fathers. How many of those memories are the times your dad lectured? Why do we think a good relationship with God would be any different? My favorite memories of Dad are discussions around the dinner table, phone calls, and sailing.

He did give advice, and occasionally (albeit rarely) I even asked for advice; but he always loved to talk with me. About life. About ANYTHING: movies, friends, spiritual quandaries, and jokes.

If our best memories of our earthly fathers are conversations not sermons, why do we think our heavenly Father (who is better than the best earthly father) wants mostly to lecture? Would we want it any other way?

We most frequently seek God’s voice during times of crisis. “I’m in trouble; I need direction!” The thing is, until we have learned to recognize his quiet voice in the humdrum of life, what chance do we have of distinguishing his voice in the maelstrom of crisis?

Let’s learn to sail our boats in a gentle breeze before we raise our sails in a hurricane.

Besides, the Best Guidance Comes Through Conversation

My dad did teach me sailing, but I never felt our sailing adventures were classroom instructions. Directions did come (“Let out the sail a bit, I see a squall coming”), but they were gusts in the winds of conversations, punctuation marks in the midst of chapters.

My ability to sail grew through persistent conversations as my dad and I sailed the seas together. It was in those communal adventures that he taught me to navigate. He never once used a whiteboard, flipchart, or PowerPoint to abstractly teach me seamanship. He taught me through a shared daily life on the waves.

On our trips together, I’d make mistakes (as would he), and the boat would capsize. We’d right it together, we’d laugh (most of the time), and we’d drag our soaking wet bodies back onboard, to match our wits against the wind and waves once more.

Through it all, I learned to sail, though his guidance was mostly unnoticed. Within a year—at eleven years of age—I was sailing the Great Lakes alone, beyond sight of land, amidst the wake of freighters, capsizing, righting, laughing, and testing my strength and courage.

Even now, when I sail as an adult, his conversational guidance is with me when I face a squall.

How Do We Have a Conversational Relationship With God?

It’s perfectly normal to talk about “normal” stuff with our friends; why not with God? He isn’t less of a person, he’s more of a person. He isn’t less interested, he’s more interested.

And he has a better attention span.

I have a daily prayer time, but my best conversations with God take place throughout the day, when driving home from an appointment or waiting in line at the supermarket. I say to God,

  • My last lunch meeting didn’t go well. I said something more harshly than I meant to. Why do you think I said it that way? What is going on in me to explode like that?
  • I’m tired. I feel like my daily mantra is: Too much to do, too little time to do it. What will it take for me to let go of my life? What does it mean to be satisfied in you alone?
  • God, I felt alive when I gave that talk on friendship. How can I help others find friends? How can I walk in a friendship with you?

The best relationships with God are conversational. In the Garden of Eden, we know very little of Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. Except this: he walked with them in the cool of the evening.

Which is a Hebrew metaphor for God having a conversation with friends.

Sam

++++++++++++

This article includes material from my upcoming book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. It will be released in mid-July by Kregel Publications.

I believe it will help you begin to hear God in a new conversational relationship.

Latest March 22 2016

Please consider pre-ordering the book now by clicking on the link or on the image.

Topics include:

  • Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
  • Hearing God in his silence
  • How to Brainstorm with God
  • Hearing God in Scripture
  • Hearing God for guidance

Gary Wilkerson (pastor, author, and son of David Wilkerson) said this:

A key longing in every human heart is to connect with God, to actually hear his voice. Sam Williamson has written a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.

The worst riot in Detroit’s history broke out the summer of 1967: forty-three people were killed and over eleven hundred injured. As the violence escalated, my father packed us kids into the station wagon and drove us in to the center of the action (every other car was headed out). Police tried to wave us away while we witnessed looting, fights, arrests, and arson.

My father was fearless and he passed that recklessness on to us kids.

We grew up with a daredevil streak. By the time I graduated from high school, I had broken my left leg twice (and my nose once), cracked multiple ribs, had the tip of a finger chopped off in a lawnmower (don’t ask), fractured my kneecap, and my many stitches give me a Frankenstein look. We knew all the names of the ER nurses, their kids, second cousins, and pet goldfish.

My father could have driven us to our doctor blindfolded. Though he never tried.

The Day It All Failed Me

Ten years after the Detroit riots, I was on a retreat with college friends at a major university. During a break, we visited the university pool. I taught my friends to do flips off the diving board. They challenged me to try flips off the three-meter board.

Piece of cake.

Just to see the view, we climbed to the top of the ten-meter platform. When a friend challenged me to jump, I sashayed my way to the edge and peered down. The clear water let me see the bottom of the pool nearly fifty feet down.

Instantly my imagination ran wild. I visualized an uncoordinated dive ending in a belly flop with my innards bursting out; I pictured a gust of wind blowing me sideways, painting the pool’s skirt with my blood. An inner voice shouted, “Don’t do it.”

Then I imagined the jeer of my friends. And I jumped.

Fear

We all fear and we let those fears control us. Some terrors are obvious, like the fear of heights, spiders, and dark. But most of our nightmares lie hidden, and like subconscious boundary markers, they fence us into the ghettos of little lives.

  • Some of us would dance at the edge of the Grand Canyon, but we reach for our valium at the tiniest thought of disappointing a friend.
  • Others displease friends without breaking a sweat, but our living rooms must look like Better Homes and Gardens before we’d invite those same friends over to dinner.
  • Some parents fear letting anyone see that they know very little about parenting.

Our Fears Wear Masks of Honor

Many of our virtuous traits are mere fears masquerading as virtues. We think we’remeek when we’re really afraid to make waves; or patient when we’re afraid to hope; orkind when we’re scared to be honest.

How much of our piety is fear in a mask?

When I swaggered to the edge of that ten-meter platform, I was afraid that my friends would think me a chicken. Courage didn’t get me to jump. My bravery was cowardice in disguise.

We think we’re afraid of the boogie man, but we’re most afraid that others will see the real us.

Sam