Can you think of a time when you were impacted by the tone of someone’s voice? What was it about the tone that was communicated? I can remember a moment in High School when my trigonometry teacher stopped me in the hallway while I was on my way to another class. The first couple of grading periods I struggled a little, grade-wise, with his class, but honestly I hadn’t worked very hard at it. The next couple of grade periods I made some great progress. This teacher, Mr. Pickens, could be stern at times and we experienced his frustration at us in class often! On this day, however, he simply stopped in the hallway and told me with a gentle and gracious tone that he was proud of me for the progress I had made. That moment was so impactful to me I can still see him today and hear that voice. Though he could be tough, I always liked and admired him, so for him to single me out and affirm me with a tender voice was awesome. Now this also could taken as another instance that contributed to my tendency toward performance, but that is a lesson for another day! Today, let’s just focus on tone.
Factors That Impact How We Hear God's Voice
When you think about the tone of God’s voice, how does it sound? It may change depending on the circumstance and what you may be going through, but in general, how do you experience the tone of God’s voice? In a previous post, The Power of a Voice, I shared the struggles I have had in recognizing God voice and some things that have been helpful for me. This post I would like to share some exercises to help us properly tune into the voice of God. As a preliminary to the exercise, I think it helpful to ponder what may impact the voice of God we hear. For me, there have been three primary things that have impacted how I experienced God’s voice:
- Family History: We are all impacted by our family history. I had a wonderful childhood, but it was not perfect. As I think about my childhood, I heard voices from my parents that were angry at times. Most of the time, I probably earned that anger, but the tone can be so powerful. So powerful that I can drive myself to perfectionism to try to avoid it.
- The Culture: We live in a culture that is performance based. We can experience a tone from culture that tells us we aren’t good enough. We can also be impacted by media. We check our Facebook account and notice all the things others are doing and posting and can feel like we are a failure. Way before Facebook, a movie impacted how I heard God’s voice. Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments featured a booming voice of God as he wrote out the Ten Commandments
- The Church: The body of Christ, for as wonderful as it can be, can also be a place where the tone of God’s voice can be impacted in a negative way. When I think back to growing up in Church, it felt like we focused a lot on behavior and what to do and not to do; essentially managing our sin became a focus. There were some “angry” sermons from time to time associated with doing wrong and disappointing God. This definitely impacted how I heard the voice of God, a voice that seemed to modulate between tenderness and anger.
There are obviously many of the ways we can be impacted, but these are three that I know impacted me.
Practice Hearing The Tone of God’s Voice
Are you with me so far? Does it make sense that our experience with God can be greatly impacted by the tone of His voice? It seems kind of strange having to “practice” hearing God’s voice, but if we have a faulty experience with Him and His voice feels angry and condemning, then it will take practice to retrain our minds and souls to listen to what His voice is really like. Below is a really helpful chart that my friends at the Renovaré Institute put together which is a summary of what Dallas Willard describes in Hearing God. A good exercise is to take some quiet time and review this list. When you think of Gods voice, what is most common for you.
From within self or enemy
|Leads and invites||Driving or pushing|
|Invited and wanted||Illegal entrance/intrusive|
|In line with scriptural principles||Proof texts|
|Has inward solution||outward solution|
|Corrects actual behavior||Broad condemnation|
|Convicts of specific sin||Condemns worth|
|Practical, even mundane||Impractical and sensational|
|Simple and definte||Complicated and confused|
|Love, peace, and joy||Anger, worry, and discouragement|
|Faith increased||Faith deflated|
|More understanding of others||Despising of others|
By default, I experience God’s voice as demanding, somewhat intrusive, and filled with disappointment. When you compare my default voice, which column does it line up with? Yes! The enemy. Yet, because of years of life experience, that voice of the enemy has felt more like truth than lies. This little table has been immensely helpful to me. When I am hearing a driving or intrusive voice, I am much quicker to recognize it as the enemy or the negative self-talk that has built up over the years. My ear has been in-training to hear my Father’s voice which comes with a quiet invitation to join Him in His presence.
I need to say that this is not a new topic for me, I have had various ups and downs with knowing God’s voice over the years. I think especially in the past 5-10 years, God has invited me on an amazing journey to truly experience Him and to clearly hear His voice. There have been milestone moments along the way and this current practice I am sharing with you is the latest and has been one of the most significant for me.
Hearing God's Tone Reading Scripture
One additional exercise to try in how you hear Gods voice is pay attention to the tone as you read scripture. It may be helpful to read a passage out loud in the voice you are hearing. When I first heard of this exercise, I thought it was kind of goofy, until God used it “out of the blue” one morning. I was reading about Zechariah and Gabriel when Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would be having a baby and Zechariah shared his disbelief. I then read this statement from Gabriel:
In my head, I heard a voice of anger. It was that same voice from the Ten Commandments movie! Now I don’t know for sure the exact tone Gabriel used, but I was struck in that moment how I was hearing the voice and began to ponder other times when I had read scripture and how often I heard in this way. Is it possible, that Gabriel was more tender and maybe just sad that Zechariah was missing the miracle of the moment? Or maybe Gabriel was just sharing with Zechariah how he was going to give him the sign he was asking for when he questioned Gabriel.
If you are up for some practice in hearing God’s voice more clearly, take some time and look at the table above and ask God to show you what you may be experiencing now and how He might want you to experience Him in the future. As you read scripture, pay attention to the tone of the voice as you are reading. What are you hearing?
Another thing you can try is to sit in silence before God ask Him this simple question: “God, what do you think of me?” You may want to write down what you are hearing and then compare what you are hearing to the table above.
One final exercise. Below is one of my favorite pictures. It depicts the Walk to Emmaus. This picture is particularly meaningful to me because of how God worked in my life through the Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat I was a part of at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Picture yourself as one of the disciples walking with Jesus. What must have that been like! An intimate presence with Jesus so strong that their hearts “burned within them” as they travelled along the road with Him. Involve yourself in the story and in this picture and let Jesus speak to you. What is He saying to you and how do you experience His voice?