God’s voice is not like other voices.
When God speaks, he speaks loudest through the quiet things that happen to us. Often he catches us at moments of pain or confusion or vulnerability then whispers into the depths of our spirits, saying, “you’re going the wrong way,” or “let me show you a better way to do that.” Sometimes his voice is a still, small one; other times it is no voice at all, but an event, or a sleepless night, or a chasm of guilt and remorse that seems to come out of nowhere. And it almost always comes when we least expect it.
Just this morning God roused me from a good sleep at 5:00 a.m. and kept my mind pried open. I tried to clear it and get back to sleep, but he wouldn’t let it happen. He wanted me to know that some things I did yesterday were unacceptable, that some things I said needed to be unsaid, that a relationship was strained and now needed to be mended. His voice was clear, so now that task is at the top of my to-do list, just as soon as the rest of the world awakens.
I don’t enjoy the guilt I feel at the moment, but I love that God deals with me this way. I love that he loves me enough to care.
Some years ago I was in my car on one of the busiest streets of the city. It was the height of rush hour, and cars were screaming past me on either side. The radio was tuned to a Christian music station, and soft melodies played in the background, but my mind was a thousand miles away—thinking of nothing, everything, and all that lies in between.
My life at the time was defined by periods of rebellion, followed by repentance, followed by weeks of penitence and shame. I was serving a god of anger and judgment–a god who loved me when I was good, hated me when I was bad, and couldn’t wait to share the tally with me at judgment. This was the pattern and lot of my life—the burden I bore for being a Christian.
But God had been working on me, pulling at me, trying to bring me into a fuller life. I can look back now and see his hand at work in so many ways, through books and tapes that friends were giving me, through experiences, through people he brought into my life. Little by little I began to see him, though I steadily resisted.
As I was driving a song came over the radio. A song from Margaret Becker, my favorite singer. I turned up the volume and began singing along with her, words I knew by heart. Words that had been in my heart yet had never quite pierced it. The song was titled Just Come In, and for the very first time the profound message of the lyrics began to penetrate and settle into the depths of my soul.
You think you’ve crossed some sacred line, and now I will ignore you.
If you look up, you will find, my heart is still toward you.
Look at the sky, the east to the west.
That’s where I threw this, when you first confessed.
Let it go now…Just come in; just leave that right there.
Love does not care.
Just come in; lay your heart right here.
You should never fear.
Without notice a well of emotion began to spring up within me. I started to cry, slowly at first and then uncontrollably. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I quickly made my way over to the far right lane and pulled into a vacant parking lot, where I sat and blubbered like a bruised child. I couldn’t stop the tears. Several times I tried to compose myself, to get a grip, to take charge of my emotions, but it wouldn’t work. I was completely and wholly overtaken by the tenderness of God’s Spirit.
At that instant I could almost feel God’s arms fold gently around me. It was as real and genuine as any embrace I had ever experienced. I felt as if I could reach out and touch him. And his Spirit whispered into mine, Don’t live your life in fear and shame. Let it go. Don’t fight my love…embrace it.
For a solid twenty minutes I sat and bathed in the warmth of God’s love and goodness, all the while weeping like a wounded child in his mother’s arms. I could have stayed there forever.
I plan to stay there forever.
Don’t we all have moments like that in our relationship with God? Haven’t we all had times where we sensed his nearness, felt his gentle hand on our chest, imagined his tender face within inches of ours, smiling, laughing, whispering into the depths of our heart?
If only for a fleeting moment, we feel close to God in a way we never imagined possible. As if he had suddenly broken through the barrier of space and time, stepped through the elusive dimension that separates heaven and earth in order to touch us, hold us, speak to us, comfort us. They are moments of closeness or clarity that seem to come out of nowhere, yet transcend human understanding in a way that far too few moments do.
There was a phrase used in the Deep South over a hundred years ago that I’d like to see us revive. When someone came to Christ, they didn’t refer to themselves as “saved” or “born again.” They described their conversion by saying, “I was seized by the power of a great affection.” What a beautiful way to express a new life in Jesus. Because isn’t that what happens? Isn’t that what brings people to their knees before the cross of Christ? Isn’t it the love of Jesus that sets our hearts ablaze with passion and sets our eyes to tears? I don’t just want to be saved from hell… I want to be “seized by the power of a great affection.” I want to be embraced. And I want to embrace my Father back!
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” said Jesus. “This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37).
And why is this so important to God? Because it is with this same depth and breadth that the Father loves us. Because he loves us with all his heart, soul, and mind. Because his love knows no limits, and he longs for us to love him with that same sense of abandon.
Paul said it is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance. And in that kindness we find a love unlike any we have ever known. All we have to do is open our hands and our hearts and embrace it.
* * * * *
God’s voice is not like other voices.
And God’s love is not like other loves.
Both come wrapped in a tenderness and grace that only God can give.
Under the Mercy,