Day 36: His Still Small Voice
Written by Ralph Dowling
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)
We seek guidance from people with whom we have relationships. Children take parental guidance if they love and respect us. Love and respect come from knowing our past words and actions, and knowing requires relationship. Relationships teach us from what others do whether to listen seriously to what they say.
Likewise, learning to take guidance from God requires a relationship. In light of this, there are two facts that, taken together, sometimes cause me great consternation. 1. As I learned as a doctoral student, communication is not part of a relationship—it is the relationship. 2. I have never audibly heard God’s voice. Does this mean I have no relationship with God?
I take comfort in the fact that God wants relationships with all of his people. Not just “holy” people or spiritual leaders. All people. Biblical injunctions to pray prove God wants relationships.
If hearing the audible voice of God is required, I’m in trouble. God’s communication is more complex. Our communication with people has material aspects: spoken or written words, gestures, and expressions. We know we have communicated because we sense these and are consciously involved in sending and receiving them. We trust our senses.
Very few of us have heard the audible voice of God. God tangibly “speaks” to us in creation and scripture. He communicates to a few through such extraordinary means as angels, dreams, visions, and signs (e.g., terrible winds, earthquakes, fires). While hard to ignore, these are more the exception than the rule. God also “speaks” through reasoning, circumstances, and prompting by the Holy Spirit. These are not so apparent when they happen.
God communicates through “a still small voice,” 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV); what John Calvin called “inner testimony” and Saint Ignatius called “movements of the soul.” This is how God convicts us of sin, assures us of his love, or “tells” us to act. Our senses are not involved, so such messages are too easily overlooked. Even when such messages take root and lead to change, we may fail to credit God as their source.
We must learn to “listen” for these intangible communications from God so that we can follow his guidance, give him credit, praise him when we follow him, and learn from mistakes we make when we ignore him. When God “speaks” to us intangibly and his communication is not what we want to hear, we may just not “listen,” do what we want, and blame him for not guiding us.
God is not a friend you call to ask, “What should I do about X?” when you just want them to say that what you want is right. If we call that friend and they dare offer real guidance diverging from our desire, we argue until they agree with us and shut up. We should go to God (and friends) when we need and want guidance and plan to follow it. God is not our too-understanding friend. He is our Creator, God, Father and Counselor. We can recognize guidance from God because it will be consistent with his words, his deeds, and his nature.
Does this mean we need to pray and listen before we make any decision? I think not. If we have had a long and deep relationship with God and know his character, most decisions will not require additional guidance. We already know what he would want. I respect my earthly father’s wisdom and guidance, but I don’t need to call him to ask if I should cheat, steal, or mistreat a child of God. He has already taught me that with his words and actions during our 62-year relationship. When there is no clear direction, I may need to call him. Tougher decisions are when we need to reach out to God with prayer and listen for that still small voice.
God loves us and wants a relationship with each of us. We cannot give him that if we do not speak to him and listen to him—usually in that still small voice that is too easy to ignore.
Ralph Dowling is an attorney sole practitioner in Muncie since 2006. Before passing the bar in 1994, he earned a Ph.D. and was a debate coach and teacher at the University of Denver, University of Northern Colorado, Ball State, and IU-Indy.
He is married to Judge Kim Dowling and they are the very proud parents of Carrie of Denver, Colorado, and Sean of Brownsburg, Indiana. Ralph spends his time reading and rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals, Denver Broncos, and Indiana Hoosiers. Since the children both have Purdue degrees, Ralph has learned to “Boiler up” whenever IU is not playing. Ralph and Kim have attended Commonway since the beginning.