Sit Your Soul Down and Listen
by Jill Briscoe
Everyone seems to want to know how to hear the voice of God. On our ministry trip to Egypt, I was asked that question over and over again. It's a hot topic. People want to know: How do I hear His voice? What does it mean to listen to God? How does this work? What am I listening for? How will I know it's not just a voice in my mind, my own thoughts, or the devil?
Let me share a real situation I faced.
A while ago, I was very bothered about a problem. A dear couple had asked me for help. The problem was difficult and the more they talked, the more complicated it seemed to be. They were fighting all the time, hurting each other with angry words, making life miserable for their children, and feeling chronically anxious about everything. "We just want peace!" they said. What was at the core of it all, I wondered? Was it bad communication, unfaithfulness, or maybe money issues?
"Why did you come to me?" I asked them after they had spilled their story. "Because we think you hear the voice of God and we hoped you would pray about it for us and tell us how to fix it!" A tall order!
Well, that was fair enough. I was a Christian leader, and Christian leaders were supposed to hear the voice of God—not only for themselves, but for others. In fact, lots of people had been talking about the subject—attending seminars, teaching courses, and writing books about it.
As my friends prepared to leave, I briefly prayed with them and promised I would ask God for some insight for them. After they left, I briefly bowed my head and asked for just that, said "amen," and went out into my busy day.
I began to work on it in my mind. I was really busy that week and didn't see how to get any extra time to attend to it. I thought I would sort it out as I went along. It began to really worry me because I couldn't get it straight. So, I ran around from one person to another in my busy ministry day, seeing if they had any ideas (without giving names, of course), but they didn't. So, I rushed to a Christian bookstore and hunted for a problem- solving book on marriage. It didn't help. (Actually, Stuart and I had written our own marriage book, and I reviewed the chapter on incompatibility!)
I began to lie awake at night—after a brief prayer, of course—figuring out different things to say. My mind ran round and round like a caged animal and always seemed to come back to the same place of confusion.
Somewhere inside I thought I heard a still small voice saying, "There is something I want you to do about this. There is something you need to tell them. Why don't you ask me? I know why their marriage is struggling." Still, I thought I should be able to figure this one out all by my self. After all, how much marriage counseling had I done in 50 years of ministry? Plus, this would require time with Him that I really didn't have, because my schedule was full, speaking at conferences on the topic of prayer!
In the end, out of guilt, I got out of bed, got on my knees, and said, "Lord, do you have any advice for me?" I don't know what I expected to hear—a psychiatrist- type voice or something—but as I heard nothing at all, I climbed back into bed and tried to get some sleep.
Somewhere in the early morning, between sleeping and waking, I heard a little song. I can't remember exactly how the words went, but when I woke up I got a pencil and scribbled them down as best as I could remember. The words I heard between sleeping and waking were much nicer than the words I wrote on the paper and they rhymed a lot better, but I did the best I could. They went something like this:
Heart of the hurried one
Listen to me
Open your inner eyes
What do you see?
Sit your soul down today
Hear what I have to say,
Heart of the hurried one
Listen to me.
Heart of the worried one
Come to my throne
Read my Words in my book
Then make them known.
Lay down your heavy care,
More than a mind can bear,
Heart of the puzzled one
Come to my throne.
Heart of the harried one
Rest in my grace
Bring your confusion
Slow down your pace.
Take time to look above
Revel in my quiet love,
Heart of the harried one
Come to this place.
So, that day I did without lunch, found a quiet park, and just came to Him. I couldn't see Him, but somehow I sensed His presence all around me.
"Why does it take me so long to come here and let you speak to me, Lord?" I murmured. "Why don't I learn the lesson of listening for your voice through your Word? What a waste of time trying to get a grip on this problem and discern what is best for people in a mess any other way!" Then, "Please, Lord." So we all sat down together: my hurried heart, worried soul and mind, and me, and wondered what was going to happen.
First, I listened. It was hard because I didn't know quite what I was listening for. Would I hear a voice? Would He speak in a thought? How would I know it was His voice and not just my imagination? Maybe an angel would come with a "deep knowledge" pill, and I would drink it with some of the living water that's always available to those who belong to Him, and like magic, I would get it and feel better.
Not one of these things happened. I began to get antsy. After all, I had even missed lunch to come and hear His voice and I had a lot to get done that day. I had wasted a good half-hour already listening for I didn't know what!
I began reading His Word, looking for some help. David's words were at once in my mind. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps. 119:105), and, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Ps. 119:18). A sense of expectation arrived on the doorstep of my confusion. I was glad to welcome it.
I was reading about Isaiah the prophet, who was speaking to worried Israel. God's chosen people had been disobedient and inviting disaster on themselves. They were trying to understand why they had been allowed to suffer the consequences of their actions. They were asking each other why they had no peace of mind. As I read on, there were the very words I had heard in my song at the dawn of the day: "Come near me and listen to this!" (Isa. 48:16).
I continued reading the prophet's message, "And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me with His Spirit. This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy one of Israel" I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you...If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river" (Isa. 48:17-18).
The couple who had come for help had not been paying attention to His commands, and, in fact, had been living in disobedience for a long time. I knew this, but had been trying to work on their problems as if they were disconnected from their disobedience to God! As if a disrupted and rebellious attitude toward God would not have repercussions in all of their relationships! I saw it clearly now.
This was the way I heard the voice of God that day...through His Word and by applying a principle in the Scriptures to the present problem. We all need to pay attention to His commands—and that includes the rules of Christian marriage.
I relaxed. My mind quit running around and around trying to figure out what was wrong. Peace began to flow like a river into my bothered mind. It was such a relief! So refreshing.Now I could help the troubled couple get things right with God and start living a life of obedience. Only then could peace begin to flow into their troubled relationship, too. Peace like a river!