Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is the 'still, small voice'?

This was an answer to a question posed to me on a comment stream. I am expanding it to a blog entry.

The Still Small Voice is not a voice of God nor is it a personal experience, intuition, or a word from the Lord (or word of knowledge). Revelation has ceased, the canon of the bible is closed. In these last days He spoke to us by His son. (Hebrews 1:2).

People who believe they have heard or seek after a voice, through prayer, or a labyrinth or contemplative practices or whatever are actually rebelling against the authority of God's word. People who wait on a whisper from God are actually elevating themselves to a position equal to the throne.

Do you not think that God can orchestrate events He desires to come to fruition whether we 'hear' His voice or not?

What if you're doing voice-listening and it said "Kill your children"? What then? Or "Leave your wife"? Or worse, "Is the bible really true? Hath God said?" We cannot trust the voice, the whisper, the process of osmosis whereupon God plops truth to your brain via voices.

GotQuestions.org discusses the still, small voice-
The point of God speaking in the still small voice was to show Elijah that the work of God need not always be accompanied by dramatic revelation or manifestations. Divine silence does not necessarily mean divine inactivity. Zechariah 4:6 tells us that God’s work is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” meaning that overt displays of power are not necessary for God to work.”

The still, small voice misuse has thus been ripped from its context as a demonstration of a narrow point to Elijah about Israel, to apply to all New Testament believers as expecting personal words from God. Not so.

That said, one of the Holy Spirit’s ministries is to reveal scripture to us. He brings these things to mind. (John 14:26). He develops fruit in us for the name of Jesus. (Galatians 5:22-23).

And this:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

He is our teacher. Does He teach us scriptural truths via an audible or an inner voice? No. But He does clarify scripture for us. Here we have MacArthur explaining the difference between a voice from God about scripture and the Holy Spirit clarifying scripture:

"The line between clarifying Scripture and adding to it is indeed a thin one. But Scripture is not clarified by listening to someone who thinks he has the gift of prophecy. Scripture is clarified as it is carefully and diligently studied. There are no shortcuts to interpreting God's word accurately (cf. Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15)."

That was from a 4-part article series called "Does God give personal direction through a still, small voice?"

Does God clarify scripture by delivering a whisper to your brain, or by reading His word, where He said he revealed Himself? The 'voice' is the Word, given to us via scripture (John 1:1-5). Look at this comment about when John received his vision in Revelation,

"And John hears this voice and it sounds like the smashing surf in the midst of a storm. And it indicates to us that the Lord is not only interceding in His church, He's not only purifying His church, but He's commanding His church. He moves in His church with authority and He brings to bear commands in His church. He's not making quiet suggestions. He's not any longer speaking in a still, small voice. He is speaking commandingly in His church. And the commands that He speaks come through His Word, which is Scripture. He is bringing His people under the authority of His word." (Christ's role in the church today)

Any word we hear that is outside His word is outside His authority.

Scripture teaches us, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

The WORD trains us in righteousness and equips us, not a small voice. For training and equipping, one has to study.

As for me personally, the practicalities of the situation are that I approach the bible in various ways. Sometimes I just read it, like a book. I might read a chapter with nothing else in mind but to simply read. During sermons I have the bible open and read along with the pastor. Other times when I prepare to study deeply, I pray first. I also repent. I spend some quiet time. When I get ready to study, I have a notebook and a pen handy. I use my study bible. Then, I read it, stopping frequently (like every verse or even within a verse) to ponder. I check cross references. I might look at parallel verses to see how it is said in other translations. As you can imagine, it’s painstaking.

But when I study, and all is quiet and I’ve prepared my mind, then the Spirit brings to mind connections to other verses I have read. Or He deepens my understanding of the one I am reading now and perhaps have read before. THAT is the voice, not something audible but the Spirit working in me to knit together an understanding of a passage that I had not had before. It is called illumination and it is a work of the Spirit. it is how He transforms my mind. But I have to work at it by cracking open the bible myself, first.

As for this "still, small voice" it is from 1 Kings 19:12. Barnes Notes explains, "A still small voice - literally, "a sound of soft stillness." The teaching is a condemnation of that "zeal" which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeances, and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gentle temper, which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (Barnes Notes)

Obviously, the verse from 1 Kings is not about dwelling quietly and tuning out the world's noise. It is not akin to another verse that is ripped out of context, "Be still, and know that I am God," (Psalm 46:10) which doesn't mean 'be still to hear from God'. It is not listening for a voice in the quiet to speak personal direction to you.

Then how does God guide us? Well, in the ways above via the Spirit, and through Providence.

He works all things together for the good.

"Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose." (Romans 8:28).

What you do is submit to God, turning your life over to Him. You diligently study His statutes and learn what He expects. And you go forth and live your life. I'll give two examples.

First, I have read in the past of a missionary who was converted and after a while of training and study, decided that he had felt God's call upon his life to be a missionary. The man was convinced he was to minister to the French. He had a history in Paris, he knew French, he had a love for the French.

So he trained up in missionary school or whatever, and the time came when he was waiting for his orders. He didn't get Paris. No France. No Europe. Initially the man was crestfallen, thinking that this whole time he had missed what he felt God was putting into him. But when his orders did come, it all made sense. He was to be a missionary in French Canadian Quebec. The man had it right, but just the details wrong.

In another example that is not even so dramatic and more properly applies to us regular folk living a non-radical life, John MacArthur was answering a question in one of his Bible Q&A sessions about the voice of God and how to know what to do in life. He said that he just lives his life, not waiting for voices or bells or dramatic circumstances to direct him. He gave the example of when presented with a list of speaking engagements he is invited to. There are always more engagements than he can attend. So he simply goes down the list in matter-of-fact form, checking off the ones he can do or not do. He looks at what is doable and God exalting and goes from there.

Later, he said, he sees the magnificent Hand of God's Providence in his life. At a conference he met a man, and that man was just the man he needed to collaborate on a book. Or the speech led to another event which cemented a certain thing. Later he can see how all things were working to the good, but often we cannot see it at the time. But later, we can.

Actually, waiting for a still, small voice means we may miss the Providence of God in our lives. Or we become dependent on the voice and when we do not hear it we wait and do nothing.

Providence is how it worked with me. I was saved in Maine, but my career in journalism was concluded, having sold the newspaper I'd started. I wondered what to do next. I was tired of the harsh winters and longed for a gentler climate. I had done a lot of traveling in the decade previously and I liked Florida. But when it came time to move, FL was too expensive for me. So I chose Georgia. The cost of living was lower, the climate was better, and I could make the fresh start I'd wanted.

Later I realized that the hills and pastures in this rural area were just the wonderful balm I had needed for my quaking soul, but had not known it. That the Godly people here were also the strength this new Christian required if I was to thrive. That the Lord would bring me around to working in the educational system again, with children, the lack of which in my life was slowly draining it of professional joy (I see now, but not then). He knew all that and more. His providence worked to the good in my life and to those around me whom I fellowship with. He nestled me into a berth that is perfect.

Could He have done that if I'd moved to Tuscon, or Houston? Sure. But he worked it out providentially here in GA and I am so grateful. I trust Him to work in me. Trust. I pick up my cross every day, and follow Him. Picking up the cross involves trust to be led whether I hear a voice or not.

How do we know that 'voice' we think we hear isn't our flesh? An unconfessed desire? Or satan's voice? I often hear a voice inside my head. It says "Eat cake!" but I don't follow it. (OK, I do). If it says "Eat broccoli" I tend to trust it more. LOL.

The point is, did I pray contemplatively and walk a labyrinth and do centering prayer and wait for a whisper? No. I just live my life in submission to Him and amid the practicalities of my every day life.

So that's the still, small voice. Now go eat some broccoli.

5 comments:

  1. The irony, then, is that the Bible says the opposite, about the still small voice, than it has been interpreted by those who want to hear audible interaction from God.

    It's amazing--I've found this to be a sort of curiosity among those who mishandle Scripture. They'll often quote something that is talking about them and rebuking or condemning them! And they'll think they used it to prove their point. It makes me laugh, at first, because they have no clue what they're really doing, but then it makes me sad, because someone who makes mistakes like these is in gross error, and often lost, and that's not something that brings amusement.

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  2. People today are searching for some kind of experience to confirm that God is real or to give them some sort of superior place in the realm of Christianity.
    It opens the door for error and worse! We are to walk by faith , faith in the Word of God, not by sight or experience.
    Ah, but for the Grace of God, there go I.

    Pam

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  3. Ok...I love broccoli...so Elizabeth must be hearing from God, (LOL)!
    I'm glad I read ths today. I've needed to get a prompt to study more. What study Bible do you use?
    I always believed that the "still small voice" was just a reference to the fact that the Holy spirit is gentle in His leading...doesn't scream and yell at us, but gently guides us into all understanding of the Word of God. I never thought of it as an audible voice. If the Lord conversed with us, He would do so using His Holy Word...For instance, I have had the Words from Scripture come into my head "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you"; as well as others from time to time. And once, just a simple "I love you." which changed my whole life when I was questioning His ability to love someone such as myself...(it was a dark time in my life)This voice was not audible~ it was felt within my spirit and I believe it brought back to life my faith in Jesus. This was not a special prophetic message, just a statement that is confirmed within the Scriptures....In fact it is THE heart of the salvation message.
    I was in no mood to open the Bible back up, nor speak to anyone else at that time. I wanted to give up and felt hated by God and unlovable by anyone. I do not, however, ever expect anything like that again, nor do I sit around and wait for something. I know God loves me, and I can tell you how much He loves you, not because of my experience...but because Jesus died for us as it is written. The Bible is not just a book, but it is ALIVE.Jesus is the Word. We serve a living God, and His Holy Spirit resides within each believer. This is too great for any of us to fully understand. There are other voices out there, but we must trust that as His sheep we hear His voice, and follow no other.
    ~God bless, and have a wonderful Ressurection Sunday, Elizabeth~
    Lisa

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  4. Thanks for your thinking on this subject! It's thorough, and says with clarity what I know to be true but have been unable to express for so long now.

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    Replies
    1. CArl C., you're welcome! Happy Resurrection Sunday to you also, Lisa! Pam and Adam, thank you for your thoughts on the matter. Blessings to you too.

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