From the Gospel according to Luke:
[Jesus said to his disciples] “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 10:16 (NRSV) – May 14, 2013.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this listen to voices stuff. A few weeks ago, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 21, 2013), we heard one of the “good shepherd” lessons in which Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). Now, he says, we hear his voice in the voices of his apostles, those whom he has sent. (This verse is taken from his instructions to and commissioning of the Seventy who are sent out to preach the Good News and heal those who come to them.)
And elsewhere he suggests that we hear his voice in the pleas of the needy for help. In Jesus’ explanation of the eschaton (end time) when the king shall separate the goats from the sheep, those who fail to help the needy from those who provide aid, he says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) Clearly, in some sense, those who render assistance have “listened” to those in need; the needy speak on behalf of Christ when they seek relief.
On the other hand, it is often said that God normally speaks to us through our consciences. That “still, small voice” that Elijah heard (1 Kings 19:12, KJV), that voice that speaks within the heart of a person is understood to be the voice of God. This is why prayer is described as a conversation with God, why prayer is understood to be as much (if not more) an activity of listening as of speaking. The thoughts that come to me in those moments of prayer, the promptings expressed by that “small voice,” however, sound like me. I hear my conscience in my own voice.
At a conference in the past few days, I heard a recovering alcoholic say, “I have a disease which lies to me in my own voice.” He went on to suggest that this is true of the power of evil in general, that it lies to us in our own voice. That interior voice we hear speaking to us may not, in fact, be God.
I’ve learned through the years that anything I hear in that “still, small voice” (which, I must admit, always sounds like my own voice) needs to be tested. I need to take those promptings and subject them to examination in the light of Scripture, but (again) that’s usually just me and my own voice doing the examining. I also need to take those promptings and lay them before one or more trusted advisors; I need to listen to those whom God sends into my life to aid in discernment. These may be family members, fellow clergy, lay leaders and members of the church, a spiritual director, or the hierarchs of my denominational tradition. Whomever, they help me to figure out if what I am hearing in my own voice is from God, from the power of evil, or from my own ego and wishful thinking.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me,” but whoever listens only to his or her own voice may not be doing so. Yes, God speaks to us in our own still, small voice, but the power of evil lies to us in our own voice. Inner promptings must be tested by community discernment.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.