When the Lord Speaks Softly

Not every word from God sounds like we expect.

As a child, I often opened my Bible to the Old Testament. I wanted to read the stories of adventure and violence and greatness that weave through its pages. And I would linger where God chose to speak with His people—when His voice manifested to Moses in various ways—the bush, the pillar, on Mount Sinai (Ex. 3:1-6; Ex. 13:21; Ex. 19:18). Then at the foot of the mountain, Moses spoke and “God answered him with thunder” (Ex. 19:19). I’d pause to consider Job, who met God in a whirlwind and from a storm (Job 38:1; Job 40:6).

 

As an adult, I am drawn to the calmer experiences of God. The stories that bring me comfort are the ones that demonstrate He’s an understanding God—such as when He came to Gideon in a time of war and said He’d deliver Israel. Even after Gideon tested Him over and over with fleece and water, God said, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Even so, Gideon responded, “Why then has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:12-13). I like knowing that I can doubt as much as he did, and that God can have the same amount of patience with me.

Which brings me to Thomas. Though his fellow disciples had come to him rejoicing and saying, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replied, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:24-25). But when they were finally together a week later, Jesus greeted the room and then said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:26-27). Even though Jesus subsequently corrected him—saying, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29)—I still marvel at the Lord’s empathetic response. He willingly exposed His wounds to Thomas, though He did not need to. I’ve lost count of all the moments over the years when I required more evidence from God. I’ve lost count of how many times I hoped to hear from Him—a simple word of comfort or assurance of His presence—though He appeared to remain silent.

I like knowing that I can doubt as much as Gideon did, and that God can have the same amount of patience with me.

Dr. Stanley writes in How to Listen to God:

I believe the most important reason God is still talking today is that He wants us to know Him. If God has stopped talking, then I doubt we will ever discover what He is really like. If the priority of all our goals is to know God, then there must be more than just a one-way trip. Rather, there must be a communication link in which He talks to us and we listen or we talk to Him and He listens.

I will admit I am afraid of the whirlwind, the fire, the pillar of smoke. But I am not afraid of the God who made Himself human in the ultimate step toward me, you, and all of humankind. The One who repeatedly made Himself available and vulnerable and, after resurrection, opened His own body up to scrutiny. The Old Testament encounters still bring me a thrill, but it is Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit that remind me of His love. It is the warmth of a sunrise, the droplets on leaves first thing in the morning, the shadow of tree branches and how the sun looks when I look up and see it through the green that remind me of His care and concern for me.

I know God will be there in the storm. But I will also continue to listen for His voice in the small and the usual, with hope that I’ll hear more as the years go by—and learn more and more that He is just as powerful and gentle as the Bible shows Him to be.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Doubt

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1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

2 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.

3 So Moses said, I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up."

4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, Moses, Moses!" And he said, Here I am."

5 Then He said, Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."

6 He said also, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.

19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

6 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said,

12 The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior."

13 Then Gideon said to him, O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, `Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian."

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 So the other disciples were saying to him, We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, Peace be with you."

27 Then He said to Thomas, Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing."

29 Jesus said to him, Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

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