I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
JOHN 10:14, 27
Who is not stirred by Jesus’ words about His sheep hearing His voice: “My sheep hear my voice”! I long to hear Jesus in the way I learned to sing as a boy: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.” I want just that kind of intimate relationship with Jesus. But is hearing Jesus only a sweet platitude we sing about on Sunday, or can we really hear Jesus’ voice? Clearly, Jesus says that we can and should expect it.
I am not a doctor, nor do I play a doctor on TV, but I am learning a little about the way we hear. In May, 1957, “Scientific American” published an article describing a discovery about the way we hear. It told about the Reticular Activating Systems, or RAS, a bundle of nerves at the base of the brain. The article said the RAS “acts as a ‘switch’ of sorts, to turn on your perceptions of ideas and data, the things that keep you asleep even when the music is playing but wakes you up if a special little baby cries in another room.”
The RAS sifts through billions of bits of data coming at us daily to keep out that which we have deemed unimportant to us while forwarding the important on to the brain. The RAS works like a gatekeeper knocking at the door of our consciousness, saying, “Here is something important to you! You will want to hear this! Pay attention!”
RAS explains how I once lived near a large airport and could sleep through the noise of jets, but be awakened by the sound of our baby turning in his crib in the next room. My RAS had been programmed to tune into what was important to me and to filter out other sounds. That explains how an expert birder can hear a Willow Flycatcher in the woods that I would never hear. We learn to hear what is important to us.
Here is where RAS enters into our learning to hear Jesus’ voice. We live in a culture of so many competing voices that makes it difficult to hear Jesus’ voice. That is why Jesus repeatedly warns about the need to make hearing Him important: “Let anyone with ears listen” (Matthew. 11:15; 13:9; Mark 4:9, 23; Revelation. 2:7, 11; 3:6, 13). Time and again Jesus talks about the need to be careful about how we listen: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20). We have to learn to be still and to listen for Him.
I want the heart of the boy Samuel as he prayed to the Lord: “Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). Samuel was ‘all ears’ to listen for God. He had the very heart the Lord commended in Solomon when he asked God for a “hearing heart” (shem lev) in the epochal prayer of 1 Kings 3:9.
Hearing Jesus’ voice begins in the heart with really wanting to hear Him! It begins with the RAS being programmed to know that hearing Jesus is important to us. In fact, hearing Jesus must become more important to us than anything if we are to hear Him. Jesus is infinitely creative in how He speaks; how He speaks intimately to you will be different from how He speaks to me.
I think that hearing Jesus requires the following:
- It requires first believing that Jesus is speaking to us.
- It requires wanting to hear Jesus speak, not for just the big moments, but wanting to hear Him speak in the small moments of daily life.
- It requires spending time with Jesus where He has already spoken to us – the Bible! By that, the RAS is programmed to know that hearing Jesus is paramount for us.
- It requires spending time turning out other voices in order to be still and listen for Jesus’ voice.
- It requires spending time with others who are also seeking to listen for Jesus.
- It requires responding to Jesus when we hear Him speak. That could mean obedience, change of mind, praise, and expressions of love and trust. Jesus promises that the more we listen to Him, the more we will hear Him speaking (Matthew 13:12; 25:29; Mark 4:25).
A. W. Tozer left us the prayer that I often pray. I hope his prayer will be helpful to you too!
“Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee. ‘Speak, for thy servant heareth.’ Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy Voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away, and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking Voice. Amen.”
A fellow traveler,