As we continue through Numbers the theme of holiness continues to come up. Take a look at this challenging concept as explained by the Bible Project…
One of my favourite things to ask people when I sit down with them over coffee is, “What do you think Jesus is saying to you at this point in your life?” Then I sit back and observe. Sometime the question catches people off guard and they really have to think. Sometimes they're ready with an answer. Often it’s, “I’m not quite sure…”
I like the question because it betrays an assumption about the Christian life that God speaks. And not only does God speak but He speaks to us. And not just collectively but also individually! When we really sit back and think about that amazing and radical idea, it can change our whole outlook on life. “I’m not alone! God sees me! God speaks to me!”
One of the major reasons we set out to do Bible in 3 Years is to cultivate the skill of Hearing the Voice of Jesus. Not just through the Scripture as we’re reading it but also in our everyday lives, in the context of the particular challenges and opportunities we face on a day to day basis. But the obvious question always is quick to come up, “But how do I KNOW it’s the voice of Jesus and not something else, or just me!?”
The answer to that question, at least in part, is being familiar with what the voice of Jesus sounds like. If you’re doubtful that reading the book of Numbers teaches you about who Jesus is just consider the following: “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27). Or what Jesus says in John 5:39 - “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me”! In Jesus’ day the only Scriptures around were what we now call the Old Testament. Jesus is explicitly teaching that the Old Testament teaches us about him!
These 2 questions: 1) What is Jesus saying to me at this point in my life? and 2) How do I know this is Jesus speaking? are the focus of Gordon Smith’s book, The Voice of Jesus. And the book is specifically on the “inner witness” of the Spirit. That “helper” that Jesus promised that would remind us of His words and would guide us into all truth. But the key to hearing the voice of Jesus is clear, it can only be heard and understood in the larger context of Scripture. It must be so because there are always competing voices. Smith highlights 3:
Our own Inner Emotional Turmoil. And boy how do we all have so much of this in our day and age!! Our anxieties, doubts, fears, and desires all mix a nasty cocktail that makes it VERY difficult to hear much of anything. How in the world are we supposed to hear Jesus’ voice through the mess of it all?
The Spoken and Unspoken Expectations of Others. This can also be a big one whether from parents, spouse, friends, colleagues and on and on. The desires and needs and fears of others are sometimes deafening in our own lives and wreak havoc with our ability to see and hear clearly and to discern well.
The Evil One. If we trust God’s words in the Scriptures we know there is also an enemy of God and all that God cares for. What deception and confusion might this adversary throw on us to take us off track from simply knowing and trusting Jesus? For an imaginative exploration of this see C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.
And these 3 competitors with the voice of Jesus (most of us are all too familiar with the first 2) can be overwhelming. How much time and energy we spend on on our own emotional turmoil and how much time on the expectations of others! Is it any wonder we often feel so lost, overwhelmed and confused by life? If we aren’t spending time in the Scriptures, what hope do we have of allowing the voice of Jesus to speak into our lives and still the rushing waters of expectations and anxieties? Gordon Smith argues that the greatest danger we face as humans is that we would never develop an “inner life”. A life that is able to pause and allow the witness of God’s Spirit to speak to us and guide us.
If there are 3 competing voices then, Smith claims, there are 2 Witnesses of the Voice of Jesus and they are tightly linked.
The Witness of Scripture. We already saw that Jesus thinks that all the Scriptures testify to Him. Hebrews 1 puts it this way,
1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
2. The Witness of the Spirit. Jesus promised His followers that He would send another helper. The implication of the word “another” is that this other helper would be like the first (Jesus) and would remind them of His words and would point them in the right direction. But another implication is that we cannot be reminded of the words of Jesus if we are not familiar with them in the first place.
To put it another way, “The sheep hear his voice…and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4). How do we distinguish between the voice of Jesus and all the other competing voices in our head and our heart? Because we know the voice of Jesus. We are familiar with it. We recognize the voice and it stands out above the rest. This is why our hearing the Voice of Jesus by the Spirit’s witness in our everyday lives must be grounded in the witness of Scripture - in our reading of Scripture.
We don’t read the Bible for its own sake - as an end in itself. We read it for something deeper and far more meaningful. We read it to know God. And not just know about Him but to come to Him in relationship. To hear and become familiar with His voice. To follow closely after Him and learn to trust Him more and more as a Good Shepherd. As a loving Father.
So read on! And if you’re joining this party late, jump in! We’re in the middle of the book of Numbers. You can find the reading schedule here.
I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re learning to hear the Voice of Jesus through reading Scripture or through your everyday life. You can send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Smith, Gordon T. The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003.