Monday, November 24, 2014
In the beginning, God spoke
From the very earliest times, God has been seeking relationship with those He created in His image. He is speaking and guiding, if we will find a still place to listen.
TALKING to God is a more universal practice than we might assume. The only statistics I can quote are more than 20 years out of date and relate to the US rather than the UK, but they still point to a surprising hidden movement. An article in Newsweek in January 1992 made a sociological study of the practice of prayer with statistics from a survey that found that nearly four out of five Americans pray at least once a week and well over half reported praying at least once a day.
Anecotally, it is also surprising what a high percentage of committed Christians, and even those who would not own the Christian label, have stories of specific experiences where they feel sure God spoke to them.
So it is recognised, perhaps more widely than we think, that a major part of prayer is listening to God, and listening to God by definition involves letting God direct us. However, it is rare for people to talk about it – some never mention it even to their closest friends.
Why is that? Probably because in our culture, that comes across as arrogant. We have all met people who seemed to think they have a hot line to God, and we shy away from them. Talking about hearing from God is also a sure-fire way to be considered a bit weird, or even unbalanced, in wider society. As comedian Lily Tomlin comments: “Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to praying, but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?”
In church circles, too, there is a lack of confidence about this. A bit like the Sadducees of Jesus’ time, some church leaders discourage the thought that God would speak to an individual. Some might prefer God to speak only to them and not to their flock – it changes the dynamics and can create tensions in pastoring them.
However, God has always spoken to His people, from the earliest times. Consider God speaking to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-9 and the dialogue which follows). Then there is the incident where Moses encountered a burning bush and discovered that he was on holy ground (Exodus 3:4-5), and my favourite where the Lord says to Gideon: “Go in the strength you have and… I will be with you” (Judges 6:14-16).
These, of course, were particular, chosen people. Also in that ‘special’ category was the high priest who had communion with God at the mercy seat over the ark of God. However, we will go on to see that individuals with faith among the Israelites also had the expectation of being able to be taught by God.