Have you ever been out alone on one of those nights when there isn’t a ray of light from anywhere except the stars overhead? Not even a sliver of a moon to cast the faintest of shadows? Where the only sounds you hear are those of the woods around you or perhaps the slapping of the water against the rocks. Sometimes it can be so quiet that all sound seems to disappear and the faintest of sounds like the startling crunch of a leaf become magnified a hundred fold. It’s at times like these that two powerful forces wrestle within us for supremacy … fear and peace.
For a long time, in fact most of my Christian life, I have been struggling on and off with this phenomenon. It represents the real struggle of hearing the voice of God clearly. There have been times that no matter how hard I tried I simply could not shut out the sounds of the world. At other times it’s so quiet that I have this strong urge to fill the emptiness with sounds of any kind. It really has been a struggle for me and I have been pressing God about it for the past few days in earnest. Let me share with you what He showed me.
Stillness or being still is one of the prerequisites to hearing from The Lord. It’s an interesting word in both the Hebrew and the Greek. In the Old Testament the one verse we are most familiar with is
Ps 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
“Be still” here is the Hebrew word raphah and it literally translates to cast down or to let fall down and then to be relaxed; especially the hands. It also carries the intent of not making any effort or putting forth exertion. In other words, the command is to have a trustful state of mind without any anxiety. The Psalmist continues then and says while in that state we are to know that He is God or reflect on what He has done.
In this verse God is telling His people to be calm, to be still and know that He, above all others, is God. That He is in charge and can be trusted to ensure that, on their behalf, He will be exalted above the world. To do this effectively they need to cease from what they are doing and know (yada; ascertain by seeing) who God is. I don’t know about you but that is a real challenge for me. Standing still is something I don’t do very well. But just standing and knowing still doesn’t answer the question; how do I hear from God?
Before we answer that let’s look at the same word in the New Testament where Jesus commanded the wind and the sea:
Mark 4:39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Here the Greek word phimoo carries a very direct and forceful meaning: muzzle as in muzzling a dog. The inference is for these forces to be muzzled just as quickly as they arose. Here Jesus combined the command to muzzle with the command for peace, siopao. In the Greek it means to be dumb or to involuntarily be quiet. In other words, I order you against your will to be quiet and muzzle yourself.
Now let’s move a little closer to the answer.
There is another part to this process that is harder for me than being still … hearing. Hearing is an interesting word and in one instance in the Old Testament it is the same word as Listening. The prophet of God commanded the pagan world (isles) to listen to the Word of the Lord.
Isaiah 49:12 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
The word shama in this instance means to hear intelligently, with obedience and with certainty. It is the same word that Moses spoke:
Numbers 9:8 And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you.
Other adjectives describing shama (hear/listen) are: attentively, carefully and diligently. In this verse it is combined with amad or standstill, and reflects the action necessarily preceding hearing. I think about now, like me, you are beginning to formulate the answer. An answer that we have heard before but perhaps have never seriously put into action. Let me see if I can bring it all together and put it to practical use.
Listening is something we do all the time but hearing is a direct choice we make during the process. When we put it in the context of hearing from God, however, we often leave the hearing part out. Oh not necessarily on purpose but more frequently because we fail to tune everything else out. Don’t forget, the enemy doesn’t want you to hear and he is an expert at drumming up worldly noise and reminding you of all your troubles. That’s where the standing still part comes into play.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I have struggled in this area mightily over the years. I understood it in my heart but was never very successful in getting it past my head. So that’s where the valley comes into the equation; call it the place of learning.
When we find ourselves walking through one of life’s valleys we usually make a very common and profound mistake. We don’t stand still and listen. Just think about those times when you were a kid (or maybe an adult) and you found yourself alone in the dark woods on a dark night. What did you do? Probably started singing or whistling or making some kind of noise. Well, that’s just what we do today with our prayers. We are so busy telling God how miserable we are in this dark valley and how lonely it is and how difficult it is without Him talking to us that we can’t hear a word He is saying. Perhaps He led us into this valley so we would “listen” for His voice and “hear” what He is saying. Therein lies the blessing of Stillness in The Valley.
I often think of going through valleys as times in my life when I wish God knew the meaning of warp speed. Have you ever thought that when we enter one of these “times of stretching” that God somehow goes into slow motion? Well He showed me something yesterday that may help out … He does!
If we are ever to learn how to hear God’s voice we are going to have to learn how to be still and listen. One example is in Ps 135:17 where the Psalmist says: they have ears, but hear not. The word “hear” in that verse means to broaden out the ear with the hand, like cupping your hand behind your ear to gather in more sound. In other words, taking an action in order to hear; focusing on the person who is doing the speaking.
At the present moment in my life I am in one of those dark, quiet and lonely places that my flesh just hates. The Lord challenged me to take Him at His Word and see if I didn’t begin to hear His voice. To pause and stand still in the darkness, cup my hand behind my ear and listen for His voice. Remember, just like it was for Elijah it is for us. God’s voice is not heard in the earthquake, the wind or the fire, it is a still small voice (1Kings 19:11-12). Note that His voice is still or demamah in the Hebrew, like a calm feminine voice. It is a voice that requires you to sharpen your ears in order to hear it; one that you have to want to hear.
So, in the end the answer is really something that we already know but often fail to practice. Remember in the beginning I said that quiet dark places often cause us to struggle between fear and peace? Well, fear is the force that rules when we fail to be still and listen for God’s voice, the voice that always brings peace. He really has made it simple for us but the doing is harder than the hearing. But take heart, He knew we were going to struggle in this area and, just like for everything else, He has given us His Spirit.
When you find yourself battling the stormy seas and violent winds of this world and you are struggling to hear God’s voice just remember, He is already inside you and is just a heartbeat away from your hearing Him. He will reveal the answers to all of your questions and provide you with insight concerning the things that are going on in your life. Paul said this better in his first letter to the Corinthians than I ever could:
1Cor 2:9-10 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
The next time you find yourself struggling to hear from God just picture a very quiet night with nothing but stars overhead, find a rock to sit on and begin to listen. As you sit there be sure and muzzle your flesh and command it to be still. Cast it down and relax like you would in just letting your hands hang open and wait for God to speak!
It won’t happen overnight but I can tell you this, when we are still His voice is not hard to hear. Start to listen now so when you are in your next valley you won’t have to rely on whistling to drive out fear. His voice is just a quiet heartbeat away.