Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Voice

“When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)

The man walking down the aisle straight toward me was someone I’d never seen before. His hair was dark and unruly. He had on a white shirt and an old tuxedo jacket, the fabric of the lapels a dull shine. It was standard practice to extend an altar call at the end of our worship services. Few ever “walked the aisle.” I don’t know if that said something about the effectiveness of altar calls or the effectiveness of my preaching. I can remember days when my dad would preach and we’d have to repeat verses of the last hymn to accommodate those who were responding to the invitation. I, however, had grown accustomed to stopping right at the end of verse four. Time for lunch!

But on this day a stranger came forward. My curiosity grew with every step he took toward me. True to form in these moments, he took my hand and leaned in close to share what the Spirit was doing in his life and why he had made the trip down the aisle.

“The Lord has laid something on my heart and I just need a few seconds to share it with everybody,” he said. I responded with pastoral concern and interest, but in my head I’m saying, “Oh, great!” I stall for time by having him take a seat on the front pew. The clock is ticking. We’re starting to sing stanza three.

My mind is racing: I have no idea who this guy is; I have no idea what he wants to say; I have no idea if the Lord laid it on his heart or if he’s a nut case. Stanza four begins. I walk over and sit beside him. “Let’s you and I visit privately this week about what’s on your mind. Once we talk there may a chance in a future service for you to share this.” He protests that it needs to be today. I make it clear that it won’t happen today. Stanza four is ending as he walks back up the aisle, retracing the steps he took only moments earlier. As he walks to his pew he looks back at me and shakes his head in disgust. Creepy. Stanza four ends. I never see him at our church again.

I have to confess that when the words “God told me” get slipped into conversation a glaring caution light starts to flash somewhere deep in my brain. I may nod in earnest empathy – but silently I’m asking questions. When I hear “God told me” I reach for the proverbial grain of salt. No big deal. You may be the same way. However, I sometimes wonder if I’ve let my healthy skepticism harden into outright disbelief; a loss of expectancy. That possibility frightens me.

The story of the burning bush is in fact the story of a voice. After the first few verses of the story the sight of the bush is not mentioned again. The sight recedes to background and the speaking voice of God takes center stage. Our God speaks to us. God spoke to Moses and God speaks to you as well. Moses encountered the bush and the voice in a wilderness place. Maybe that’s what it takes to hear God speak. A lonely still place.

We’re not Moses. For us, hearing God will always involve the written word. Ignore the Bible and you’ll miss the voice. But as you come to scripture, come expectant. Look carefully, the way Moses investigated the sight of the burning bush. A voice speaks behind and in these written words of scripture. God may very well have something to say to you today – even right now. Do you believe it? Do you expect it? Can you stay still long enough to listen?

We believe that you speak to us, O Lord. Help us in our unbelief. Forgive the hurry that keeps us from listening for your voice. For give the skepticism that lures us into neglect of the scriptures. Give us a hunger for your word, a willingness to study it, and the discernment to know what you are saying to us. Amen.

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