Note: what follows is an excerpt from a chapter in a forthcoming book on living in the Kingdom of God. If you want to keep abreast on developments, sign up for updates.
Tone Deaf in a Supernatural World
In January, 1534, a very unique baker entered an important city in Germany. This baker was unique because he claimed a unique property: he could “hear” from God. And people believed him.
This baker was Jan Matthys, and sometimes as he walked along, Matthys would stop, cocking an ear towards heaven, and engage in a conversation with God. Those nearby would hear one side of the conversation, as when a modern person hears someone speaking into a telephone. 1
Obviously, possessing such a unique ability to exclusively hear the voice of God qualified him to be a prophet and he looked the part: he wore flowing black robes and had a long, scraggly beard.
By the time Jan Matthyas entered Munster, Germany, the seat of a religious rebellion, he had quite a following. Because he was a prophet who had God’s ear and heard God’s voice, Matthyas’ orders and interpretation of scripture had the authority of being inerrant and godly: to counter him would be to counter the God’s word, or so he argued and his followers thought.
Eventually, the local prince raised an army and besieged Munster, but God told Matthyas that judgement was coming and God would destroy the army and save the people of Munster, turning the town into the New Jerusalem.
One day, at a wedding reception in Munster that Matthyas was attending, Mattyas’ body jerked suddenly, as if a bolt of electricity had struck him. He cocked his head to heaven and responded in the affirmative. He declared that God had told him that God was going to liberate Munster on Easter Sunday 1535 and that Jan Mattyas would ride out to the besiegers alone to smite the enemies of God.
And so that Easter Sunday, Jan Mattyas rode out with a few followers to destroy the thousands that besieged the town, just as he heard God order. And that day, Jan Mattyas was torn to pieces by his enemies. His head was placed on a pole for all of Munster to see what their fate beheld.
Perhaps Jon Mattyas wasn’t hearing from God after all.
To this day, many look askance when someone claims to hear the voice of God. And to my mind, rightly so. As a society, we have not only lost the ability to hear from God, most wouldn’t be able to recognize his voice if they could even hear God speaking at all. Thus many of us tend to think anyone who claims to hear from God is crazy.
But, despite living in a culture that is tone deaf to the supernatural, God is still speaking.
Recognizing Someone’s Voice
We have more tools to communicate than just through vocal chords. Consider these, for instance
- A glance or a gaze
- A wave or a hug
- A sigh or a gasp
Think about it. We even communicate our voice through
- How we stand
- How we sit
- How we walk
Don’t we impose our voice onto the emotions and senses of others? Sometimes how someone stands, glares and breathes can be deafening, conveying far more than the spoken words: “I am angry.”
Recognizing the Voice of Your Loved Ones
During the months a baby is developing in mother’s womb, the baby is learning to listen. All sorts of sounds are conveyed through the enveloping fluid, including:
- The sound mother’s heart beat and blood rushing
- The sound of mother’s breathing
- Muted sounds from outside mother’s body
The baby also begins to notice a unique sound: the sound of other voices.
Most distinctly, the baby can discern mother’s voice and also the voice of the baby’s father, usually a deeper tone that resonates more fully through the womb.
Over time, the baby can not only discern the voice of his or her parents but also the baby can determine what ideas are being conveyed through voice: love, anger, concern, happiness, and sadness.
After birth, an onslaught of new sounds and voices assail baby’s ears, but in many cases, the baby will respond first to the deeper tones of father and the soothing voice of mother.
As baby develops, he or she learns to better understand the thoughts being communicated by the voice of his or her parents, and to communicate clearly thoughts, wants, and needs. From the earliest of ages, however, baby has learned to recognize the voice of mom and dad.
How a child recognizes the voice of his or her parents can be distilled down to four points:
- The child knows who the parent is.
- The child knows who the child is.
- The child understands the nature of the child/parent relationship.
- The child spends lots of time in the presence of the parent.
Imagine meeting a man at work one time. You don’t know who he is, if he’s an employee or a customer. A week later, that man calls you on the telephone for the first time, and says, “Hi! It’s me.” How likely is it you’ll recognize his voice?
Now, imagine a close relative calls you, and greets you with a “Hi! It’s me.” Will you recognize his or her voice? What’s the difference? The difference is you have a lot more practice hearing from your close relative than the man you met last week.
Many evenings, after our children are in bed asleep, my wife and I sit on the couch to watch some show together. My voice is communicated by where I sit in relation to her, how I’m sitting, and whether or not I give her a foot rub during the show. She can recognize my voice loud and clear, whether or not I speak.
Such familiarity comes from long years of intimacy and strife, good times and bad.
The keys to my wife recognizing my voice in all the myriad ways I communicate can be distilled down to four principles:
- She knows who I am.
- She knows who she is.
- She understands the nature of our covenant relationship.
- She spends a lot of time in my presence.
Learning how to hear and recognize God’s voice has many similarities to these earthly examples.
Jesus Recognized God’s Voice
People asked Jesus how he got such amazing results to his prayers, had such a powerful ministry of signs and wonders, and spoke with such power and authority. Jesus simply replied he only did what the Father was doing and said what the Father was saying.
Many of us want to use this as a cheat, in a way, because people want to shortcut themselves to see what the Father is doing and hear to what the Father is saying. Jesus knew what the Father was doing and saying because
- He knew who the Father was.
- He knew who he was.
- He understood the nature of their covenantal relationship.
- He spent lots of time in the Father’s presence.
For a roadmap to recognize God’s voice, we can look at our natural world and the example Jesus gives us.
Recognize God’s Voice
If you are a Christian, then the Holy Spirit lives inside of you and you can learn to tune into what God is saying. Sometimes this is easier to do with a group of Christians together, specifically tuning into what God is doing.
God communicates in a myriad of ways, as we do. God doesn’t often resort to using spoken words to communicate. God speaks to us through the Bible and the counsel of friends. God speaks to us through prayer and in our bodies, minds, and emotions.
We’ll examine many of the ways God speaks to us and how to recognize his voice. Our goal is to legitimately discern God’s voice, not to become like a Jan Matthyas.
The keys to correctly recognize that it’s God speaking, and not our own souls or a different spirit, can be distilled to four points. Can you guess what they are?
- Know who God is.
- Know who you are.
- Know the nature of the covenantal relationship through which God relates to you and you to God.
- Spend lots of time in God’s presence.
Much can be said about each of these area. The first three are clearly laid out in a close reading of the Bible. The last requires additional activity on your part.
These guidelines shouldn’t be thought of as a specific formula. This requires engaging your brain and heart and being very intentional. Isn’t this how we learn to recognize what our loved ones are saying? God wants to be in relationship with you, not in a religion with you.
In future posts, we’ll explore these areas in more detail.
- Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History 48: Prophets of Doom”, April 22, 2013, http://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-48-prophets-of-doom/, accessed 11/13/2015. All subsequent references to Jan Matthys are from Dan’s highly recommended episode. ↩