Monday, January 19, 2015
Picking out God’s voice among many
In the early days of printing, Bibles were rare and were commonly chained to a lectern. In the area where I live, people were burned at the stake in the 1500s for insisting on the right to read their own Bible.
THE PICTURE of life in the early church is of risk, faith and action — with God speaking to people frequently. Paul heard Jesus speak to him in a blinding encounter on his way to Damascus, a follower of the Way called Ananias received a call to go and help this SS-like enemy of Christians and look after him, Peter had a vision on a roof-top that changed his theology and the whole course of the gospel, and others seemed to know what they were supposed to do and where they were meant to be without mobile phones or GPS or iPads with maps. It all seems extraordinary to us, but with less distractions, maybe they simply listened to God more, expected to hear Him more – and just did?
People heard God in dreams, in visions, in an audible voice and in all kinds of impressions. The way they were less likely to hear was the way and other pastors commonly teach people is the number one, safe way to discern what God is saying – through His word. “Read the Bible, write down in your journal anything particular that stands out to you, or that the Holy Spirit seems to be saying through the word…” If you have been a Christian for a few years, you have probably heard that advice a few times. (If this is new to you, it is good, solid, can’t-go-wrong advice and to borrow words from an Apple slogan, “it just works”.)
Why didn’t the early believers tell each other to do this? They didn’t have Bibles. Printing was a millennium and a half away and when the first Bibles came into circulation, it was hardly a mass market. A Bible was so valuable it was common practice to chain it to the lectern. God has always spoken through His word, but for us, Bible study has never been so easy — you can have a daily reading pop up on YouVersion in any version you choose on your iPhone app or by email and BibleGateway is only a click away.
But we still need to listen and it’s about your personal relationship with God, not how many ways of reading the Bible you have or whether you know Greek or Hebrew words. God is a Father who speaks to His children, and we do well to listen. With so many voices and messages and visual prompts and inbox sounds, perhaps “tune in” is a good phrase. God’s voice is not one of the strident ones, but quite the opposite, and that takes a little practice to get on the right ‘station’.
There have been urban myths around for decades about people being able to hear radio stations through tooth fillings. One of the more convincing ones dates from 1978 and it came from someone called David who said that for a few weeks only, he was hearing a Boston radio station. At that time he had been assigned to work with rocket fuel chemicals. His assignment changed and the unwanted reception ceased. Another story from a Rev Jimmy Martikn was a memory from the 1950s when for a couple of nights he heard Author Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program on KMOX in St Louis at around 11pm to midnight. He visited his dentist, who said it could happen and promptly filed the filling to desensitise it.
So we need to do the opposite and get tuned in or sensitised to the voice of God — which of course will be a personal word to us when it is the right time for us, and (so fortunately) not at all like some cheesy late-night chat show.