Published April 11, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
Updated April 14, 2012 @ 7:36 a.m.
How do you perceive God’s voice? Do you believe that God answers you when you pray? These were the questions that were asked in yesterday’s Sunday School lesson#. It appears that an anthropology professor from Stanford University has made a study of members of the Vineyard churches in Southern California. Tanya Luhrmann identified three ways in which Christians believe that God speaks to them: through circumstances, through the Bible, and through their thoughts. Most people I know who are Christians would agree that these are the ways they hear God speaking to them. I would add two more; a fairly common one is hearing God speak through other Christians and the second least common is a few have heard an audible voice.
Luhrmann does not claim to be a believer and she put everything she published about her study in secular terms. She wrote: “What I found so striking as an anthropologist is that prayer changed people, not so much morally or emotionally, although prayer might change people in these ways, but in their capacity to imagine.” In our Sunday School class that appeared to us as an odd way to put things. However, we all agreed that we believe that God speaks to us.
Many of the ways that God speaks to us are the ways already mentioned. We pray and we find that doors we had not seen before were opened for us. Other times, we found doors to be shutting, doors that would have led to a path that would have been a mistake. We have heard God speaking to us through scriptures. It is amazing how many times I have been praying for answers and I open God’s Word and the answer is staring me in the face on the written page. No, I am not claiming that those words were written just for me but rather that in their meaning I found the solution to my own dilemma.
God has also spoken to me through circumstances. One of my favorite life stories is of the time God called me to go to Africa for three months. The decision was really made for me because I told God that first my job would have to be taken care of because my parents would kill me for leaving a good job to go off on a whim. Secondly, I am not a fund raiser and God would have to provide a way for me to go. Both answers came a month later when I was laid off from my position but with a promise of two months’ severance pay and two weeks’ vacation if I stayed for one more month. That severance and vacation pay were the funds for my trip.
In the denomination I am a part of the community is given a large part in hearing the voice of God. In fact, we find that Christian convocation is something we like to call a “means of grace.” We find that God’s grace comes to us in corporate prayer and worship and we find that we often hear God speaking through other people. We hold this belief so firmly that in order to become a minister there are a number of Christian convocations that you have to take part in and it is a convocation of ministers that has the final say.
I am not sure that God increases our imagination through prayer but I know that God does lead us through prayer and sometimes God gives us ideas and thoughts that we would never have on our own. I know this because I have often experienced God’s intervention in my own life in many strange and wonderful ways.
God loves the idea of walking with us through our lives. This does not always mean everything will be easy. One of the stories of Bubba Watson’s win of the masters was how difficult this time of year was for the man because he had lost his father to cancer this time a year ago. This is despite the fact that Bubba is considered by people in his sport to be “a man of faith.” Sometimes, things we consider to be bad still happen despite all of our prayers. But we learn that even through the valley of the shadow of death God still walks with us. We don’t just hear God’s voice, we know God’s presence. And we can hear and know these things because Jesus Christ is risen! I know this is true because of my own life.
When I was a much younger man I often drove a little fast and I owned an old car with tires that were not always the best. I had a Dodge Aspen wagon which, in the best of conditions, would fish tail when you were hard on the brakes. The tires on that car needed replaced so it certainly fishtailed when I was driving at this time. I was driving down Illinois Street in Midland Texas when I saw a young woman in a car even older than mine. I knew that she had stop sign so I wasn’t overly concerned about her approach until it became evident she was not stopping at that stop sign.
By this time I was too close to her to stop. I stood on the brake pedal as if that would somehow make my brakes stop faster but my mind knew there was no hope. As will happen during those times my brain began working at different speed and all of the action began to look like it was in slow motion. I saw a little five or six year old girl sitting in the passenger seat I was about strike with a 3500 pound car at 30mph. Standing on the back seat leaning over the front and speaking to his mother (which is probably why she didn’t stop at the stop sign) was a three or four year old little boy. In my mind I knew those children were dead. There was no way I could stop in time.
As was usual the Aspen fishtailed, thankfully the back end was coming around on the left side of the vehicle. God picked my foot up off of that brake and slammed it onto the Aspen’s accelerator. Somehow those sliding tires found traction and the Aspen shot forward across the front of the woman’s car and into a parking lot across the street and at a 90 degree angle from the direction I had been going. I can guarantee you that even with my mind working at such a furious pace I am not a good enough driver to make that decision. Those children lived another day because God intervened. God is the only reason they lived. Do I believe God speaks to me? Yes! Not only does God speak but God intervenes. I haven’t just seen that. I have experienced that. God wants to speak with you as well.